|Population||UN Population Division (as of 2016)|
|Number of IDPs (Conflict and violence)||IDMC (as of 2016)|
|New displacements (Conflict and violence)||IDMC (as of 2016)|
|New displacements (Disasters)||IDMC (as of 2016)|
|Refugees||UNHCR (as of 2015)|
IDMC’s estimates are based on data compiled by Yemen’s Task Force on Population Movement (TFPM), which is supported jointly by IOM and UNHCR and which conducted its first full assessment in early 2016. The new displacement figure is very conservative, and the true magnitude of displacement may be as high as 753,000, but this upper estimate could not be verified by partners on the ground.Download extended figures analysis (PDF, 40 KB)
While displacement not a new phenomenon in Yemen, the number of people fleeing violence increased sharply in 2015 after a deterioration in the political and security situation. The country had the highest number of new internal displacements caused by conflict in 2015, and the ensuing humanitarian and displacement crisis has since shown few signs of abating. Disasters brought on by slow and sudden-onset natural hazards also cause displacement, but there are few reliable estimates of its scale in Yemen.
Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world and has been plagued with social and political unrest since its troubled unification in 1990. With few natural resources, weak governance and social services, high youth unemployment and almost 50 per cent of its 26.8 million population living below the poverty line in 2014, the country’s humanitarian needs were already acute before the conflict escalated in March 2015. Half of the population, 70 per cent of whom live in rural areas, had no access to safe drinking water, and three-quarters had no access to safe sanitation. Gender inequality is widespread. Yemen has ranked last in the World Economic Forum’s annual global gender gap report in each of the ten years it has been published. The escalation of violence made human suffering and the country’s displacement crisis significantly worse in 2015.
The upsurge in violence has largely been attributed to the Saudi-led military intervention in the conflict. The sharp deterioration in living conditions, however, is predominantly the result of land, sea and air blockades of commercial and humanitarian imports.
Yemen has been in a state of political crisis since 2011, when President Ali Abdullah Saleh staged a violent crackdown on demonstrators before eventually agreeing to step down. The al-Houthi movement, which champions Yemen's Zaidi Shia Muslim minority and had fought a series of rebellions against Saleh during the previous decade, took advantage of the weakness of the new president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, by taking control of their northern heartland of Saada province and the neighbouring areas. Disillusioned with the transition, many ordinary Yemenis, including Sunnis, supported the al-Houthi fighters, and in September 2014 they entered the capital, Sana’a, setting up street camps and roadblocks. In the south, fighting between security forces and Ansar al-Sharia, a wing of al-Qaeda on the Arabian peninsula, displaced more than 200,000 people in June 2012, when the group took advantage of the secessionist turmoil.
In January 2015, the al-Houthi fighters reinforced their takeover of Sana’a, surrounding the presidential palace and other key points and effectively placing President Hadi and his cabinet ministers under house arrest. The al-Houthi fighters and security forces loyal to Saleh then attempted to take control of the entire country, forcing Hadi to flee abroad in March 2015. Alarmed by the rise of a group they believed to be backed militarily by a regional Shia power, Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other states, most of them Sunni Arab, began an air campaign to restore Hadi's government. The coalition received logistics and intelligence support from the US, UK and France.
Taking advantage of the subsequent power vacuum, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) expanded its control over vast parts of Yemen’s south, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) also began launching attacks in the country, mainly targeting sites affiliated with the al-Houthi movement and AQAP. To add to this complex mix in a heavily destabilised country, new groups also entered loose alliances with one side or the other.
By the end of 2015, the number of people displaced had increased more than sevenfold, to more than 2.5 million. In addition to mass displacement, millions more were unable to flee due to fuel shortages and road closures. Between 2015 and 2016, despite an air campaign and naval blockade, pro-government forces were unable to dislodge the rebels from northern strongholds, including Sana’a and the surrounding province. The conflict caused extensive damage to public and private infrastructure in the north, rendering millions of people dependent on humanitarian aid.
Yemen was also hit by sudden-onset disasters in 2015. The cyclones Megh and Chapala brought the equivalent of five years of rainfall to the Hadramaut, Sahbwa and Socotra governorates in just two days in November, leading to flash floods, devastation and the displacement of 56,000 people. More than half of those who fled their homes returned within a month, and the majority of the 23,000 people still displaced at that time were living with host families or in rented accommodations. As of 31 December 2016, 18,000 people remained displaced as a result of disasters in 15 governorates.
The patterns of displacement in Yemen include constant shifts and new displacement in areas of prolonged conflict, and simultaneous returns.
In 2015, the Taiz, Amran and Hajjah governorates had the largest number of IDPs, accounting for 900,000 in total. Many more people may have wanted to flee, but a range of physical, economic and social obstacles prevented them from doing so. The main triggers of displacement were flagrant disregard for international humanitarian and human rights law, and indiscriminate warfare that has targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure. The destruction of infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, markets, shops and water supplies has left 82 per cent of Yemen’s population in need of humanitarian assistance, including 14.4 million people who suffer from food insecurity.
Of the 2.2 million IDPs in Yemen, around 77 per cent lived with host families, while others lived in public buildings or makeshift shelters. This added to the pressure on host families, who were likely to be living in poverty themselves.
By mid-2016, more than a million people had returned to their areas of origin because of lulls in the fighting. In early 2017, however, intense fighting between al-Houthi fighters and pro-government forces in and around al-Mukha city in the Taiz governorate trapped some people and caused new displacements. Meanwhile, 73 per cent of the total population displaced by disaster were in the governorates of Hadramaut, Hajjah, Amran, Socotra and Shabwah.
Minority groups have been targets of detention and expulsion in some parts of the country, as poverty and socio-economic marginalisation have advanced sectarianism, especially among youths. Children account for half of the displaced population and are exposed to various forms of abuse, including systematic recruitment into armed groups.
With the escalation of the crisis, IDPs face a wide range of protection needs and vulnerabilities, including a lack of shelter, a lack of safety and security, harassment, a lack of livelihood options, gender-based violence, loss of documentation, food insecurity and limited access to healthcare, education, water and sanitation.
Fourteen million people suffer from food insecurity in Yemen, with “famine-like” conditions reported in parts of the country. In the governorates with the highest prevalence of malnutrition and food insecurity, households of IDPs and those hosting IDPs are the most vulnerable. In early 2017, 75 per cent of IDPs and 36 per cent of returnees identified food as their top priority, followed by shelter and water.
IDPs who live in makeshift shelters face serious health and protection risks. An estimated 19 per cent of IDPs live in public buildings or in dispersed spontaneous settlements and are confronted with significant protection risks, including harassment and gender-based violence. Coupled with the density of the displaced population, long periods of displacement have significantly increased the pressure on scarce water resources in the governorates of Taiz, Al Jawf, Hajjah, Sana’a and Marib. The conflict has also devastated livelihoods and significantly weakened Yemen’s already precarious economy because of restrictions on imports and financial transactions.
Yemen National IDP policy, March 2014
Yemen 2017 Humanitarian Needs Overview, November 2016