Yemen: Most IDPs shun official camps

HARADH-SANAA, 12 November 2009 (IRIN) - Reports from various UN agencies operating in northern Yemen indicate that many people displaced by fighting between Houthi-led insurgents and government forces would rather live with host families or in informal camps then in official camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

"A major reason why some IDPs prefer to stay outside is cultural," Mai Barazi, a UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) team leader in Haradh, told IRIN. "They [IDPs] are conservative people and their cultural values don't allow for their women to be seen by strangers."

"The camp [al-Mazraq in Haddadh District, Hajjah Governorate] which is now full, was established in a spontaneous way; the local council was supposed to run it. However, they did not have the expertise and experience to do so, and therefore in many cases tents were pitched very close to each other with little privacy for females," Barazi said.

Also, many IDPs come with their animals and they want to keep them close to where they live, which is very difficult to accommodate given that the camp is full and there is little space available, Barazi explained.

Naseem Ur-Rehman, a spokesman for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), told IRIN they wanted IDPs living around the camp [al-Mazraq] in informal sites to be in the camp so they could be provided with better services.

"Some of them [IDPs] refuse to go to the camps because they come from a Bedouin [nomadic] lifestyle; they are goat herders, or subsistence farmers. They have come with their animals to the camp, but you have to adjust to the regulations of the camp. You have to submit your weapons before you go into the camp and you can't take all your animals in," Ur-Rehman said.

According to the UNHCR northern Yemen situation report of 2 November, the same pattern of more IDPs staying outside camps is true in Amran Governorate, where only 475 IDPs were staying at the sole camp there - Khaiwan camp - compared to 9,078 registered IDPs outside the camp.

Five camps in Saada Governorate - Al-Talh A, Al-Talh B, Al-Sam and Al-Ihsa camps, run by the Yemeni Red Crescent (YRC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and Al-Mandaba - were as of 4 November hosting 10,810 IDPs, while as many as 51,121 IDPs were registered by aid workers as staying with relatives or friends in Saada city, according to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Too much focus on camps?

In a special report on IDPs dated 12 November, ICRC drew attention to the fact that most IDPs do not end up in camps but are taken in by host communities and families.

"When people think of IDPs they automatically think of tents and camps," said ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger.

"The focus on camps means that what happens to the majority of displaced people - those who seek refuge with host communities - is often ignored," he said. "The report argues that these people are often the most vulnerable as they rely on the support of host communities that may already be extremely poor. The challenge, therefore, is to help not only the displaced but also the people who take them in."

Rabab Al-Rifai, a spokesperson for ICRC in Sanaa, told IRIN ICRC was providing IDPs with humanitarian assistance wherever they felt safe. "If they feel safe in host communities we would be assisting them and their hosts there. If they want to come to a camp, we will be ready to provide them with humanitarian aid in the camp," al-Rifai said.

Andrej Mahecic, a UNHCR spokesperson in Geneva, said on 10 November that some 175,000 people in Yemen had been displaced by intermittent fighting since 2004.