Displaced Yemeni families
Displaced Yemeni families from the Abyan region receive donated food from a charity at a school in the southern city of Aden, as an official launched an appeal to aid some 100,000 displaced people who fled their homes because of fighting between the army and Al-Qaeda in southern Yemen. © - AFP
Displaced Yemeni families
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Fawaz al-Haidari, AFP
Last updated: September 15, 2011

Yemen official calls for urgent aid for 100,000 displaced

Over 100,000 Yemenis have been displaced by the ongoing conflict between the army and Islamic militants in Yemen's southern Abyan province and are in urgent need of assistance, a senior official told AFP on Wednesday.

More than 65 percent of the displaced are currently living in schools in the main southern city of Aden, threatening to hold up the new school term that begins on Saturday, said Ahmed al-Kahlani, minister for parliamentary affairs and also in charge of overseeing Abyan's Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

"The IDPs coming from Abyan province are living under very difficult conditions... I am calling on our brothers in the Gulf nations and others to help them," said Kahlani, who spoke to AFP in Aden.

"The number of internally displaced people who have arrived from Abyan has reached 108,000," he added.

He said that more than 66 schools in the city are currently housing IDPs who have fled the violence that has plagued Abyan since last May when Al-Qaeda-linked militants took hold of three towns in the province, including the capital Zinjibar.

The army has regained control over parts of Zinjibar, but violent clashes continue.

As of Wednesday, the resettlement of tens of thousands of IDPs had not begun.

"The government has proposed some solutions for relocation, including moving the IDPs from the schools to sports stadiums," Kahlan said, adding that the government has also designated areas to set up IDP camps.

Many of the displaced, however, are reluctant to relocate.

Jawad Atroush, 36, who has been living in the Masmoum school in the Sheikh Usman district of Aden since mid-June, said he and fellow IDPs at the school have already agreed not to relocate.

"We have been informed by the government that we will be moved to camps... but we refuse to go," said Atroush, who fled the violence in Zinjibar after the militant take-over.

"They will be moving us from a bad situation to a worse one," he added.

Yemen, the most impoverished country of the Arabian Peninsula, has been swept up by protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been recovering from a June 3 attack on his presidential compound.

On Tuesday, UN human rights officials warned of an impending civil war in Yemen unless a months-long political deadlock is resolved.

"Clearly, the country is teetering on the brink of civil war... everyday people are getting killed," Hanny Megally, head of the UN human rights office said after releasing a report on the deteriorating conditions in Yemen.

"Frustrations are growing and people don't see the light at the end of the tunnel," Megally said.

According to the most recent statistics by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the fighting in Abyan province has forced more than 91,000 people to flee their homes.

Most are scattered throughout the three southern provinces of Aden, Lahij, and Abyan.

In all, there are more than 400,000 IDPs in Yemen, two-thirds of them from another ongoing conflict in the north where Shiite rebels have been battling the army since 2004.

"They have not made the necessary preparations for relocating us and if they try to move us, we will only suffer more than we already are," said Issam Al-Rboui, an IDP from Zinjibar who has been living in a classroom at the Balqees school in Aden with seven family members.

"We have all agreed. We are not leaving," he added. OCHA says it has been working with the local and main government to explore alternative shelter for the refugees, since according to the organisation's latest report, "the majority of IDPs do not consider camps as a suitable solution."

Yemen has witnessed unprecedented political turmoil since the protests took hold last January.

Since then, the central government has practically collapsed as tribal leaders, dissidents and loyalists to the embattled president continue to vie for power.

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