A Red Cross official said Friday that the world must not lose sight of the misery of people affected by Yemen’s years-long war, demanding continuing help for the Middle East’s poorest country as the world’s focus is drawn to the conflict in Ukraine.
The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Yemen, Katharina Ritz, also stated that talks between the Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of Yemen’s exile government are still ongoing.
However, as the battle worsened along various front lines, notably the energy-rich city of Marib, a significant swap hasn’t occurred in recent years.
“I believe it is our responsibility to respond equitably to all needs and to do our best,” Ritz told The Associated Press. “I don’t think it’s about whether it’s Ukraine or not. Now it’s Ukraine, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Congo, and other countries. … We must include Ukraine in all of the challenges, but we must not move.”
In September 2014, the Houthis, who are supported by Iran, took control of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition entered the fight to support the country’s ousted government.
Yemen has subsequently become one of the world’s biggest humanitarian disasters. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, more over 150,000 people have been killed in the conflict. There are both fighters and civilians among them; the most current civilian death toll in Yemen’s conflict is 14,500.
Saudi airstrikes have also killed hundreds of people while destroying the country’s infrastructure. The Houthis have employed young troops and strewn landmines across the nation indiscriminately.
Meanwhile, the fragmented country has been hit by the coronavirus outbreak and continues to see African migrants attempting to enter Yemen into oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
For years, the nation has been on the verge of starvation, a problem that might be aggravated by Russia’s conflict in Ukraine. Yemen gets around 40% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine.
“Obviously, we have the wheat supply now,” Ritz added, “which will have an influence on Yemen’s food supply.” “The country’s coping mechanisms are very restricted, and I believe it will be a huge challenge.”
Meanwhile, according to Ritz, the Red Cross still has access to captives imprisoned by militias, the Houthi-controlled government in Sanaa, and the Yemeni government in Aden. The warring parties orchestrated a large-scale prisoner swap in 2020, but there hasn’t been another one since. The parties agreed to transfer nearly 15,000 convicts in a 2018 deal in Stockholm.
“The parties are in the midst of a conversation. “We’ve never stopped negotiating,” Ritz added. “I believe it is also critical to keep the parties around the table interested.”
Meanwhile, the Houthis have kidnapped over a dozen former Yemeni embassy staffers in Sanaa. When asked about their situation, Ritz indicated that the relatives of the detainees would have to approach the Red Cross for help. She wouldn’t specify whether the families had done so.
The Red Cross was also mentioned by Saudi Arabia after a coalition bombing in January killed at least 87 prisoners in a Houthi jail in the city of Saada. Saudi Brig. Gen. Turki al-Malki said at the time that the Houthis had failed to notify the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross that the facility need airstrike protection.
“The parties to the disagreement retain accountability,” Ritz added. “The obligation remains, regardless of what the ICRC says or does not say, or does or does not do.”
The Red Cross, however, worked with the Saudi-led coalition, the Houthis, and other factions in the battle to emphasize the need of safeguarding civilians and civilian infrastructure, according to Ritz.