With Yemen in its sixth year of conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic has further destabilized the country’s infrastructure, including its health care system, which was already struggling to address rising health needs and is now collapsing under the additional pressure of the COVID-19 outbreak. There are few infection prevention and control measures practiced at the community-level in Yemen and testing remains extremely limited. Stigma surrounding COVID-19 is delaying those with symptoms seeking treatment and leading to a high mortality rate, which could be as high as 25 per cent according to available data. This number may be exaggerated as only those who are critically ill are seeking treatment and are being tested.
The majority of airports, seaports and land border points remain closed, with some exceptions for returning Yemenis stranded abroad and humanitarian cargo and personnel. IOM continues to advocate for stranded migrants in Yemen and look at options for safe and dignified returns for those that choose to return to their country of origin, while providing lifesaving humanitarian assistance in the meantime. IOM notes that approximately 14,500 Ethiopians are stranded in Yemen, though this is a baseline figure and the actual numbers are likely to be much higher. Together with COVID-19 threats, migrants are facing increased xenophobic acts, arbitrary arrests, forced movement across active frontlines and decreased access to health services.
Despite various ceasefires declared between the parties to the conflict – violations have been reported on all sides. In Marib, for example, the situation remains volatile as clashes continue in south-western and western areas of the governorate (see IOM’s latest update on the situation in Marib). Through the Displacement Tracking Matrix, IOM continues to record conflict-related displacement – noting that over 100,000 people have been forced to flee so far in 2020. IOM’s DTM has also recorded new population movements as a result of COVID-19, with more than 10,000 people citing COVID-19 as a reason for leaving affected areas in Aden and Lahj to locations in Lahj, Al Dhale and Abyan.
The operating environment in Yemen, particularly in northern governorates, is characterized by severe restrictions on programming, limiting the independent implementation of humanitarian programmes. The restrictions range from interference in local beneficiary targeting and registration, obstruction of humanitarian needs assessments and monitoring, denial of movement permits for staff and humanitarian aid, arbitrary suspensions of activities and attempts to divert aid. These approaches, in addition to movement restrictions, have especially impacted IOM health activities and along with a lack of funding for northern governorates, forced the closure of IOM support to 51 health facilities.
For IOM, as an Organization that works through a direct implementation model, restrictions on movements and activities have had a severe impact on operations. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, IOM was already facing unprecedented limitations on operations in some governorates: between January and March 2020 alone, on average 92 per cent of IOM permits from the authorities in Sana’a were not approved. The COVID-19 outbreak has also led to operational constraints across Yemen, as authorities adopted precautionary measures, including limiting intergovernorate movements, restricting movements of supplies from southern Yemen and not approving the delivery of some assistance and services. Since April, the number of permits IOM has submitted has dramatically reduced, particularly as IOM support to 51 health facilities ended and its office in Al Hudaydah is in the process of being shut. Nonetheless, efforts to scale up COVID-19 activities were repeatedly challenged by the preexisting barriers, and submitted permits were often not approved or delayed following multiple resubmissions and high-level advocacy to seek approvals.
In Marib and Al Jawf, clashes continued to constrain response activities along south-western Marib. However, new displacements from the area slowed and IOM was able to focus activities on the over 10,000 families displaced earlier this year in Marib city, Sirwah, and other districts (including working with partners to provide support in Al Jawf). IOM CCCM activities were also challenged in southern Taizz, Ibb, and Marib, when the Executive Unit for Internally Displaced Persons placed a temporary suspension on IOM activities.
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