Red Cross pulls 71 foreign staff out of Yemen over security risks

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The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has pulled 71 of its international staff out of Yemen because of rising security threats.

Some 450 ICRC employees remain in Yemen, including dozens of expatriate staff, spokeswoman Marie-Claire Feghali said.

The aid agency urged all sides in the country’s three-year war to provide security guarantees so its staff could keep running surgical, water and food assistance programmes, which it said had been “crippled” by the partial evacuation.

“The ICRC is calling on all parties to the conflict to provide it with concrete, solid and actionable guarantees so that it can continue working in Yemen.

The agency said moving the majority of its staff Djibouti was due to high risks in the war-torn country. 


An ICRC employee, a Lebanese national, was killed on April 21 by an unknown gunmen who opened fire on his car in the southwestern Yemeni city of Taiz as he was on his way to visit a prison, it said at the time.

“Our current activities have been blocked, threatened and directly targeted in recent weeks, and we see a vigorous attempt to instrumentalise our organisation as a pawn in the conflict,” the ICRC said in a statement.

“While the Yemen delegation has received numerous threats in the past, we cannot now accept additional risk less than two months after a gunman killed a staff member. The security of our staff, who are being intimidated by parties to the conflict, is a non-negotiable prerequisite for our presence and work in Yemen and an absolute priority,” the statement added.

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate have been at war against the Houthis in Yemen, trying to expel the shia fighters, who are widely believed to be backed by the kingdom’s regional rival, Iran.

Since then, more than 10,000 people have been killed and at least 40,000 wounded, mostly from air raids.

In retaliation, the Houthis have launched dozens of missiles at the kingdom. Saudi authorities say over the past three years 90 ballistic missiles have been fired at the kingdom by the rebels.

UN calls for ceasefire

In recent weeks, a disparate collective of forces have advanced on the Houthi-held city of Hodeidah, a vital lifeline where millions of Yemenis get their food and medicine.

Riyadh sees Hodeidah port as the entry point of weaponry for the Houthis and has accused its regional rival Iran of sending missiles to the rebels, a charge Tehran has denied.


The UN has warned any operation aimed at seizing Hodeidah port could disrupt the entry of aid shipments, 70 percent of which flow through the rebel-held port. 

The international body has called on the Houthis to give up its ballistic missiles in return for an end to the Saudi bombing campaign.

The kingdom has carried out more than 16,000 air raids since March 2015, resulting in mass civilian casualties with weddings, hospitals and funerals targeted. The United States has been helping the coalition with weaponry and logistical support. 

According to a draft document which has not been made public and could be modified,  the UN has urged the Houthis to hand over “heavy and medium weapons including ballistic missiles.”

The document also cites plans to create a transitional government, in which “political components shall be adequately represented,” in an apparent nod to the Houthis, who would be unlikely to cede Sanaa without participation in a future government.

Houthis ‘cautious’

A Houthi official told the Reuters news agency he cautiously welcomed the UN’s efforts, describing a ceasefire as the first building block in the political process.

“Our optimism will be determined by how serious and respectful the other parties are of the UN role,” the official told Reuters.

Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, signaled Abu Dhabi’s desire to support the plan which was drafted by special UN envoy Martin Griffiths.

“Politically, there is a necessity to back the UN effort. It will ultimately mean a transition, to a new political order in Yemen. Clearly with the UN effort, the military and political process will see the Houthis pull out of urban centres,” he told UAE English-language newspaper The National.

The war in Yemen, the region’s poorest country, has led to massive food shortages and the “worst recorded cholera outbreak”, according to the World Health Organization.

The UN says 22.2 million people are in need of aid, with at least eight million on the verge of famine.

INSIDE STORY: What will it take to stop the war in Yemen? (25:00)

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