Hakim Almasmari: Local organizations blame the UNHCR for moving slow in ensuring the displaced in Sa’ada shelter, what is your comment on that?
Claire Bourgeois: I think there are two points. If you look at the shelter, previously we had a program to support the family who return to rebuild the home and it was implemented in cooperation with the Sa’ada Reconstruction and Development Fund. Today, there is no access. We are not implementing reconstruction works. We moved to the phase of emergencies where we have access and we are providing tents. We had a good meeting with the government and the meeting was led by the Minster of Foreign Affairs who reiterated that the government will do the best to give access so that we can help people in need in more remote areas.
HM: The UNHCR will open a camp for the displaced people in Sa’ada, how bad is the situation now?
CB: The situation is not good. The government is opening a camp and the UN agencies have decided to support the government and to assist the people affected by the conflict in Sa’ada.
HM: Where will displaced people be located at?
CB: Today, we have not a clear picture. This could be in areas where we have access to and where Internally Displaced People (IDP’s) like in Hajjah and Amran. We have reports that there are IDP’s in Al-Jawf. There is also a lot of IDP’s in Sa’ada; however, we do not have access to most areas today.
HM: Does this mean that you have not started yet?
CB: Of course, we have started. We have a team working with the government in the Yemeni Red Crescent and other Yemeni organizations in Hajjah to establish the camp. We contribute to the distribution of food items. WFP is distributing food items even for those who are not going to the camp in Hajjah. We have still a team in Sa’ada to register people there. So the work continues where we can. Today, there is a joint mission led by the Minister of Health. We already have a team in Amran contributing to the assessment of situation of IDP.
HM: What kind of support will you be offering to IDP?
CB: We have coordination mechanism between the UN agencies. UNHCR is in charge of assessing the protection and security of IDP’s as well as providing non-food items like tents, blankets, kitchen sets and so on. WFP is in charge of food; UNICEF is in charge of children. We distribute tasks among the UN organizations, so that we make sure that everything is addressed.
HM: Are the displaced safe from any threats by Houthis?
CB: We always request the government to set a camp at a reasonable distance to make sure that the camp cannot be attacked. We really hope that all displaced people – wherever they are – will be safe. We are worried about those who are in Sa’ada city. We do not know what will happen. The displaced people have to flee.
HM: The displaced claim the government was not completely helpful with humanitarian organizations in easing the reach of help to those in need. Is that true in your case?
CB: We talked with the government and it reiterated its support to give access, if possible, to the various locations. We, as humanitarian organizations, need to have access to every person in need for assistance and whenever and wherever he is.
HM: Looking at the Somali refugees, the overflow of refugees is hurting the ailing Yemeni economy. What should a country like Yemen do?
CB: Yemen has quite a lot of economic and social challenges vis-à-vis with the Yemeni population. We are grateful that the Yemeni government is welcoming all refugees here in Yemen. Our role is to help the government in its efforts to assist the refugees. This is the reason why UNHCR is making a lot of effort to get donors’ support to provide not only the basic assistance to refugees but also to provide education, healthcare, shelter and a dignified life.
HM: Can the UNHCR have refugee camps at the border of Somalia so that the refugees can go there instead of risking their lives coming to Yemen or have camps in Ethiopia and Djibouti which will save thousands of lives every year?
CB: You are right. We have 250,000 refugees in Kenya, 20,000 in Ethiopia and 14,000 registered in Djibouti but still people decide to come to Yemen. Some have relatives here and they want to be close to them. Some take Yemen as a transit point from which they go to other countries. This is every person’s choice.
HM: Do you have refugee camps at the border of Somalia?
CB: We try always to set camps at a reasonable distance from a border to make sure that the refugee camp cannot be hit during the conflict or cannot be used by some people during the fighting. When we negotiate with the governments, it is usually set at 50 km from the border.
HM: The government claims that there over 800,000 refugees in Yemen, is it saying the truth?
CB: I cannot say if it is true or not. For us, we can just mention the summer refugees that we registered because they have gone through one of the reception centers along the shore in Mayfa’ah and Kharaz camp. I cannot tell you about the old ones. The government might have registered them when they came long time ago or those who did not pass by the registration center.
HM: How many have you registered?
CB: It is the government that registers refugees. Today, we have, if I am not mistaken, registered about 20,000, but this is not complete.