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Renewed violence hampering returns to northern Yemen, reports UN agency

The United Nations refugee agency today voiced alarm at the escalation of violence in northern Yemen, which has led to a number of deaths and injuries in recent days and is marring prospects for the return of displaced people to their homes.

At least 20 people have reportedly been killed over the past ten days in what the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called the “worst violence in northern Yemen since the signing of the cease fire in February.”

UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said that, according to local non-governmental organizations, civil society and displaced Yemenis, the renewed clashes between Al-Houthi rebels and pro-government tribes erupted in a remote north-western part of Sa'ada province on 13 November.

“This is an alarming escalation,” he told reporters in Geneva. “UNHCR adds its voice to that of the local mediation committee in calling for calm and protection of the civilian population.”

Information on resulting displacement is “patchy,” Mr. Mahecic said, adding that UNHCR is in the process of dispatching a small team from its regional office in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to establish the numbers and assess needs.

Despite the ceasefire signed in February between Government forces and the rebels, the majority of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) have not returned to their homes.

More than 300,000 Yemenis are still displaced, with many are living with host communities or in scattered settlements outside formal camp sites. So far only around 20,000 Yemeni IDPs have returned to Sa'ada governorate, said UNHCR.

“Many see insecurity, fear of reprisals and new fighting, and extensive destruction of houses and infrastructure, as being the key obstacles to their return,” said Mr. Mahecic. “Land mines and unexploded ordnance also remain a serious threat.”

Yemen also hosts some 170,000 refugees, mostly Somalis and other nationals from the Horn of Africa.

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