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HRW: Thousands fleeing from fighting in northern Yemen at high risk of coronavirus

Yemen is suffering from a coronavirus outbreak [Getty]

Date of publication: 22 May, 2020

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Tens of thousands of Yemenis continue to flee violence in the north, as the shadow of Covid-19 looms over them.
Civilians in Yemen who are fleeing intense fighting in the north are particularly vulnerable to catching coronavirus, Human Rights Watch has said.

Fighting in the Marib governate between Houthis and the Saudi-supported forces of the internationally recognized Yemeni government has moved closer to overcrowded camps for internally displaced people, with health services and humanitarian aid severely limited.

“Yemeni government forces and Houthi forces need to protect fleeing civilians and ensure that they can get aid,” said Afrah Nasser, a Yemen researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“The heightened risk to millions of Yemeni civilians who rely on aid as their lifeline comes at a time of reduced foreign assistance and rising fear of a Covid-19 outbreak.”

As of mid-May, Marib has one confirmed Covid-19 case, and the risk will increase as the virus spreads to other Yemen regions.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, reported that over 40,000 people have been displaced since the beginning of the year, and more displacement is likely as Houthi forces advance closer to Marib City.


The city hosts some 750,000 displaced people, outnumbering the city’s original population of 500,000.

Other shelter facilities in the region include schools, a university campus, and a museum, according to the country’s internationally recognised government.

Since February, Houthi military advances left Marib City surrounded by active fighting in both the north and south.

Coalition airstrikes continue in the region, with Marib being one of the hardest hit areas.

Displaced people, whom the UNHCR warned are “the most vulnerable to the threat of COVID-19,” face even greater risks.

Two hospitals in Marib City that served displaced people were bombed during clashes in February.

The UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen described the attacks as “a completely unacceptable breach of international humanitarian law.”

“Given Yemen’s existing humanitarian crisis, battered health system, and the imminent threat of a cholera outbreak, Marib’s displaced people now face the double threat of renewed fighting and the uncontrolled spread of a dangerous virus,” Nasser said.

“The warring parties need to work with donors to prevent an even greater catastrophe.”


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