The National - News
Aid agencies brace for migrant crisis as Houthis close on Marib
The humanitarian situation in Marib is worsening by the day, as Iran-backed Houthi rebels push forward with their offensive to take the city in northern Yemen.
More than 45,000 people have fled their homes to escape the fighting, humanitarian agencies said yesterday.
The battle for Marib began in February. It has intensified in recent weeks, with Houthi gains across the gas and oil-producing region, and increased air strikes by the Saudiled coalition to deter them.
“We’ve not witnessed this much desperation in Marib in the last two years as we have in the last two months,” said Christa Rottensteiner, the UN migration agency’s Yemen chief representative.
The International Organisation for Migration has predicted at least a tenfold increase in migration.
“Communities are being repeatedly displaced and arriving at our sites in dire need,” Ms Rottensteiner said.
Up to 40 people sometimes shared small tents meant for one person, she said.
Marib city is home to three million people, including nearly a million who fled other parts of Yemen after the Houthis drove the internationally recognised government from the capital, Sanaa, in early 2015.
“Hundreds of thousands of people might be forced to move again if violence reaches the city,” Ms Rottensteiner said.
Increasing civilian casualties and the destruction of civilian infrastructure are also a cause for alarm, she said.
The UN refugee agency expressed grave concern about the safety and security of civilians in the province.
“UNHCR is warning that further escalation of the conflict will only increase the vulnerability of people in Marib, especially those displaced, and is calling for an immediate ceasefire in Yemen,” it said.
More than 40,000 people have fled the city since September, the UNHCR’s interagency data has found.
“This represents almost 70 per cent of all displacements in this governorate since the beginning of the year,” the agency said.
“Marib now hosts half of the estimated 120,000 newly displaced countrywide in 2021.”
The war has created what the UN has described as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
The IMO has said this year’s $3.85 billion aid response plan is only 57 per cent funded, with the agency having received only half of the $170 million it requested.
Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, Yemen’s Foreign Minister, said last week that if Marib fell into the hands of the rebels, it would “unleash waves of migration”.
“The fall of Marib won’t only lead to a horrific humanitarian situation, it will also mark the end of the political and peace process in Yemen,” he said at an event organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The natural gas bottling plant in Marib produces cooking gas for the country of 29 million people.
The power plant in the province once provided 40 per cent of Yemen’s electricity.
Seizing control of Marib would present major gains for the rebels because it is home to oil and gasfields in which international companies including Exxon Mobil and Total have interests.
“There is a huge need for international actors to do more,” Mr bin Mubarak said.
“People are being evicted from their cities and villages to the centre of Marib.”
Although Marib was considered a safe haven for displaced civilians, “the Houthis have not stopped bombing cities and civilians”, he said.
The attacks show the level of weapon supplies from Iran, he said.
Marib city is home to three million people, including nearly a million who fled other parts of Yemen