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Tackling the Complexity of the Yemeni Crisis

Learn more at our upcoming event at Fordham University.

New York City, April 10, 2017 – Two years after the onset of conflict in Yemen, the country is facing one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time. Despite the two million Yemenis internally displaced, seven million at risk of famine and 18.8 million in need of humanitarian aid, less than 10 percent of the United Nations two billion dollar humanitarian appeal has been met by donor nations and nations party to the conflict have done little to cease hostilities.

Giulio Coppi, Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs Innovation Fellow, recently embarked on a fact-finding mission to Oman and Djibouti to study the impact of the crisis and subsequent forced migration in the region. He sat down with the IIHA Communications Officer, Angela Wells, to recount his findings.

What was the goal of your recent research trip on the Yemeni crisis?

This recent research trip led me to study the regional impact of the Yemeni crisis, with a special focus on migration and health. I traveled through Oman and Djibouti, meeting local actors and visiting refugee and migrant communities. I also tried – unsuccessfully – to enter Yemen to meet people and local organizations. I really focused on understanding what lies beneath the surface of the most banal crises in the current media landscape.

 

How would you explain the Yemeni crisis to someone unfamiliar with what lies beneath the surface of the crisis?

To an outsider with little background, Yemen could look like just another case of civil war due to bad governance and political instability, or maybe another country engulfed in sectarian and religious violence. The truth is much more complicated than that: Yemen is being intentionally strangled economically, militarily and politically by internal and international actors involved in a conflict with profound historical and geopolitical roots.

Yemen was recently listed as one of four of the most serious humanitarian crises of our time. Can you explain the situation provoking people to flee the country and the complexities humanitarian workers are dealing with within Yemen?

The inclusion of Yemen as one of four of the most serious humanitarian crises of our time comes right after its definition as a forgotten crisis. The country passed from oblivion to full spotlight in a matter of days. This is mostly due to the adoption by some organizations and UN agencies of the keyword “famine”, that immediately made it to the headlines.

Unfortunately, this leads to yet another oversimplification. It generates the false impression that all is needed is to fund agencies that deliver food. This action alone would be shortsighted and ineffective, as the situation requires a much bolder response. Humanitarians are faced with a daunting task: replacing the whole public and private sector that has been wiped away by sanctions, embargoes, violence, and corruption. Overstretched and exposed, humanitarians increase their risk of being perceived as non-neutral, or partial, and becoming a target for further violence.

We know that mixed migration flows to and from Yemen are very complex with migrants from the Horn of Africa fleeing to Yemen and Yemenis fleeing to the Horn. Can you explain this in more detail?

Due to its strategic position, Yemen has always been a crossroad of nations and people. The escalation of the conflict in 2015 resulted in a temporary suspension of the migratory movements of people from the Horn of Africa, most notably Ethiopia and Somalia, towards the Arab Gulf countries.

It is counterintuitive, but with the conflict, these figures have actually increased. Some migrants do not know about the conflict, but others actually hope the collapse of internal governance could facilitate their journey. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. Saudi Arabia and Oman have sealed and militarized their borders, and militias control most areas of Yemen, who kidnap for ransom and often abuse migrants.

On the other side, Yemenis fleeing to the Horn of Africa has actually dwindled. I found that Yemenis prefer to seek asylum in countries more culturally similar and with more economic opportunities. Most of the refugees who sought safe haven in Djibouti tried to move on as quickly as possible, once they realized the hardship of living as a migrant in the country.

What is the reality for Yemenis fleeing to nearby countries like Djibouti and Oman?

 For most Yemenis arriving in Djibouti, one of the poorest countries in the world, they are really shocked at the conditions in the camps. Markazi camp, where they are hosted, is a camp in the middle of a desolate desert. The closest city, Obock, is a provincial town without markets or livelihood opportunities. Food and other goods arrive from the capital city from time to time, while many items are still being brought in from Yemen. In summer, the camp is swept by the khamsin (dust storms with wind speeds as high as forty miles an hour), and temperatures can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Refugees endure these conditions in tents, huts or in containers with no electricity and really meager food provisions.

In Oman and Saudi Arabia, conditions are much better for those who manage to enter and stay. In contrast to Djibouti, which grants all Yemenis prima facie refugee status, Arab Gulf States are not parties to refugee treaties and only grant standard visas. While initially they made a display of generosity towards their neighbors, that attitude quickly changed as it became clear the conflict would not be a short one. Today, those under official visas – like medical or study visas – are granted the same services as local nationals. Those who are not so lucky face exclusion from any assistance, and a constant risk of deportation.

Where else are Yemenis seeking refuge and what are they experiencing in these reception countries?

Today, the majority of Yemenis are not hosted by their next door neighbors, but have rather continued on their journey to seek asylum in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, while some have been able to make their way to Europe or the United States. Yemen has a vast diaspora, and very often families have at least one member with a foreign citizenship allowing some refugees a chance of reunification with their community abroad, be it in Djibouti, Oman, Lebanon or Germany. Those who are able to join their communities abroad have a better chance for smooth integration and acceptance by local populations. However, coexistence isn’t always easy, especially when their expanded presence puts a strain on limited land and resources, which can destabilize local demographics and add further strain to existing public services.

Recently, a boat of Somali migrants was bombed 30 miles off the coast of Yemen by Saudi-backed forces. Do you see this as a worrying trend for the future or an isolated incident and why?

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident and I do not think it will be the last. The Bab-el-Mandeb strait, a vital commercial route, was already heavily militarized before the conflict and even more so today. Furthermore, this attack is representative of a worrying trend on the access of safe routes for forced migrants globally. We see around the world how increasingly innocent civilians trying to escape the perils of war are being directly and purposefully attacked in systemic and horrifying ways. This is not only in violation of international laws, but is a deeply worrying indication that humanitarian channels and national values for unfettered humanitarian access is more compromised than every before.

 Is there anything else you’d like to add?

In these times when all the attention is focused on Syria and the horrible tragedy in Syria, it is also important to remind everyone of the words of Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC): “Yemen after five months looked like Syria after five years.”

The level and extent of the destruction in Yemen is unparalleled for intensity and impact. What is worse, very little efforts have been made by the UN Security Council to call for safe humanitarian access, cross-border protection, or cessation of hostilities in Yemen. It is about time the UN Security Council, and involved parties to the conflict, adopt a more proactive role to end this conflict, before Yemen and its population reach the point of no return.

Non-Fordham guests must register in advance for the upcoming event Tackling the Complexity of the Yemeni Crisis.

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IIHA Helen Hamlyn Senior Fellow featured guest at “Frontline Doctors: Winter Migrant Crisis” Screening in London

AvT Screening in UKTo mark World Refugee Day 2016,Doctors of the World UK hosted a unique screeningof the acclaimed BBC documentary “Frontline Doctors: Winter Migrant Crisis” at the art deco Ciné Lumière, part of the Institut français in South Kensington and recently voted in the top 10 London cinemas by Vogue (March 2016).

In this gripping documentary, IIHA Helen Hamlyn Senior Fellow, Alexander van Tulleken M.D. (IDHA 16) and his twin brother Christoffer Rudolphe van Tulleken M.D., travel from Lesbos, through the Balkans, to Calais and Dunkirk, spending time with medics, charities and volunteers who respond to the serious medical and human needs of refugees across Europe.

The documentary was followed by a Q&A discussion with Chris and Xand, both highly qualified doctors and Doctors of the World UK Board Members.

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Room for Debate: Should refugee camps be operated as permanent cities?

Zaatari Refugee Camp

Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, Photo Credit: dezeen magazine

With an estimated 15.1 million refugees around the world, refugee camps have been and have become a fact of life for many. History reveals that refugee camps are rarely if ever truly temporary. Statistics show that the average stay of refugees is now roughly seventeen years – almost two decades that can hardly be thought of as a temporary solution. It is now more than ever time to rethink how refugee camps are built and managed. Kilian Kleinschmidt and Paul Currion offer their differing perspectives and opinions in two recent articles for consideration.

Use Existing Abandoned Cities for Resettlement

A former manager for the Zaatari camp in Jordan, Kilian Kleinschmidt believes the world must move away from thinking of refugee camps as temporary. He suggests that refugees can be resettled and empowered; as many local people have migrated to more urbanized cities for work, why not use those deserted cities as housing for refugees? Kleinschmidt argues these mostly deserted cities could be “development zones” where refugees learn to become self-sustaining.

Urbanize Existing Refugee Camps for Resettlement

Paul Currion takes a different view; making the point that if refugees are unwilling to stay in impoverished or ghost towns in their own countries, what makes anyone think they will want to do the same thing in another country? He argues that these cities would ultimately become benign dictatorships. He argues that ultimately, the issue of the growth of refugee camps is not one of migration, but one of urbanization. As refugee camps grow, they must be managed and governed more as actual cities, not just refugee camps.

The Reality

The refugee camps in Calais, known to many as “The Jungle” are a prime example of camps that were meant to be temporary, but are now showing signs of permanency. The collection of informal settlements developed in 2002 as a staging post for those attempting entry into the United Kingdom, but the camps have now become semi-permanent dwelling places due to the dangers of border crossing and lack of other viable options for settlement. The camps, which are located on an old landfill, house approximately 6,000 refugees. The camps are marked by makeshift tents, overcrowding, and a lack of basic services. Dr. Lynne Jones, Co-Director of the IIHA Mental Health in Complex Emergencies course, recently volunteered in Calais and the IIHA highlighted her experience in a blog post in late November 2015. Dr. Alexander van Tulleken, IIHA Helen Hamlyn Senior Fellow, also recently spoke about his time in the Calais Jungle in his documentary, Frontline Doctors: Winter Migrant Crisis and reflected upon the experience in the article, What Should We Do? Contradictions and Complicity in the European Refugee Crisis. As the IIHA continues its Spring 2016 Event Series, Challenges and Opportunities: Migration in the 21st Century, we encourage you to comment on this pressing issue, and engage with the questions below.

Debate

  • What should the role of the French government be in The Jungle?

  • How can they reconcile the fact that many inhabitants of The Jungle do not want to become part of the French system?

  • Are governments responsible for governing and providing basic infrastructure to people who arrive at their shores?

Please feel free to comment below, or share with your colleagues and networks to start a conversation!

 

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Humanitarian Spotlight: Crisis in Calais

The world now faces the largest displacement crisis ever to be recorded, with almost 60 million people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014. For Europe and the United Kingdom, the migration crisis has confronted the region at its shores, and nowhere is this more evident in mainland Europe than in the migrant and refugee encampments of Calais, better known as “the Jungle”. Calais, a port city in northern France, has become a transitory home for migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers trying to enter the United Kingdom. The site has been the locus of ongoing tensions between French authorities and migrant and refugee populations since 2002 when the official Red Cross reception center for migrants was closed due to overcrowding. The collection of informal settlements known as the Jungle developed soon after as a staging post for those attempting entry into the UK, but the camps have now become semi-permanent dwelling places due to the dangers of border crossing and lack of other viable options for settlement. The camps are marked by makeshift tents, overcrowding, and a lack of basic needs and services – squalid conditions that will only deteriorate further if nothing is done to address the situation, especially as the number of inhabitants continues to grow. The population of displaced who inhabit Calais has more than quadrupled since September 2014, now numbering between 6,000 – 7,000 individuals.

Dr. Lynne Jones, Co-Director of the IIHA Mental Health in Complex Emergencies (MHCE) course, recently volunteered in Calais with Help Calais, a crowd funding platform that has already raised more than £60,000 to help various projects in the camps, and shared her experiences in a diary on Calaid-ipedia.

Reflecting on her decision to volunteer, Lynne commented, “I disliked the stereotype of ‘marauding swarms’. I wanted to find out for myself why people were risking their lives on a daily basis to come to Britain. Calais is only 6 hours away. So often, Europeans will go to remote places, while there are people on our doorstep who need help. It seemed only logical to find out how I could be useful.” Lynne found a sizeable network of people who offer their help and services in the absence of much structured humanitarian response. The internet has also contributed greatly to galvanizing volunteers.

As can be expected, the volunteers and refugees in Calais face similar issues to those plaguing the larger humanitarian system including problems of coordination, logistics, how to reach the most vulnerable, funding, and navigating the tensions between the arriving populations and the host community, local authorities, and national government. The broader concerns of host government responsibility and the lack of durable solutions for displaced populations also echo those that hinder humanitarian efforts around the world. Yet despite these challenges and the uncertainty of the future, a community continues to form in the Jungle

Read Lynne’s Jungle Diary!

Lynne Jones, O.B.E. FRCPsych., Ph.D., is a Visiting scientist, FXB Center for Health & Human Rights, Harvard University and Consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, Cornwall Partnership Foundation NHS Trust. She is also the Co-Director of the IIHA Mental Health in Complex Emergencies (MHCE) Training Course, which is organized in cooperation with UNHCR, HealthNet TPO, and International Medical Corps (IMC). View our recent blog post about this year’s MHCE course in Addis. The next course is scheduled for Fall 2016.

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Alumni Update: Robin Anderson, Ph.D. (Communications and Media in Humanitarian Affairs Course Co-Director)

Robin Anderson, Ph.D., Fordham University Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Communication and Media Studies and Co-director of the IIHA’s Communications and Media in Humanitarian Affairs course was featured in Fordham news this past August. In the article, Robin analyzes the effects that the misrepresentative media reports had on Katrina residents post-disaster. She speaks about how the television show Treme was able to remedy and accurately recount the events as they actually did happen.

 

 

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