The death of Ali Abdulleh Saleh is the biggest development in Yemen’s near 1000 day long civil war. On the morning of Monday the 1st of December grainy footage was released showing the corpse of Yemen’s former President of 33 years, carried ignominiously by his former allies on a blanket with a fatal head wound and dumped in the back of a van. Hours later the death of Ali Abdullah Saleh was confirmed, killed by the Houthi’s while trying to escape Saana, the site of an uprising he inspired 72 hours earlier. Those who knew Saleh will be aware of the immense presence that he had in Yemen. Dashing, bold, charismatic and strong Saleh inspired a committed following among supporters that will endure long after his death. For his critics, Saleh was an individualistic power maximiser constantly putting his own interests above those of his country.
On December 1st Saleh, the man who many Yemeni’s believed ‘could not fail’ successfully seized a number of buildings and choke points in Saana. This uprising marked the culmination of Saleh’s courting of the Saudi led coalition which had been thinly veiled since the massive (around 700,000 attendees) August 24th rally in Saana. Yemen watchers have long speculated when the marriage of convenience between the Houthi’s and Saleh would collapse and it appeared that the man renowned for ‘dancing on the heads of snakes’ was making his move. For 48 hours the battle for Saana lay in the balance. However, by the evening of Sunday the 3rd of December it was clear the Houthi’s superior firepower the uprising would end in failure. Did Saleh the consummate deal maker look to make one deal too many? Perhaps. What is clear now is that in Saana and across Yemen a major power vacuum has emerged and now there is race from all sides to fill it.
As the news of Saleh’s death was breaking, I was flying to Riyadh to meet with President Hadi, the democratically elected President of Yemen. Hadi’s government is specifically referenced in the United Nations Security Council’s only resolution (UN Res 2216) on Yemen as the legitimate government.
In the meeting with the President, Hadi maintained that the position of his party and his government was clear, to carry out the terms agreed in the National Dialogue Council (NDC), which the United Nations Security Council Resolution specifies as essential. The NDC concluded in 2014 and was a comprehensive cross-party attempt to address reconciliation issues in Yemen. President Hadi was adamant that having both signed the document Ali Abdulleh Saleh and the Houthi’s had reneged on their promise to the Yemeni people.
Hadi went to great lengths to describe how the NDC had looked to address the concerns of the Houthi’s. According to Hadi, each of the Houthi’s 11 points raised during the NDC negotiations were included in the settlement. This included army pensions being paid to families of dead fighters and a full Government apology. President Hadi laid the blame for the collapse of the NDC squarely on the shoulders of Iran. According to Hadi, Iran has long been planning for war in Yemen and they wanted the state to fail and turn into to the Middle East’s equivalent of Somalia.
Hadi believed the Houthi’s pulled out of the deal under Iranian instructions to do so and suggested that the Houthi’s were now wedded to the idea of Iranian style religious institutions governing Yemen. The President made a final claim about Iran’s regional intentions, suggesting that if Iran controls Yemen through the Houthi’s it will have control of the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al Mandeb straight. With access to these major chokepoints, Hadi suggested Iran’s rogue regime would be catapulted to the status of great global power without firing a shot.
Hadi still reportedly has access to oil revenues in the east of the country but state sector workers have not been regularly guaranteed income for the past 15 months. Regarding Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, Hadi was absolute in his confidence claiming that in government-controlled areas the payment of teachers, doctors and judiciary had occurred since September 2016 when the Yemeni Central Bank moved to Aden. Unfortunately, having spoken to experts from the UK Embassy to Yemen in Riyadh, it is clear that this is not the case.
Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen incite the anger of Members of the Commons, NGO’s and the public. This is unsurprising given the decision to initiate a full blockade on Yemen costing potentially thousands of Yemeni lives. In meetings with the Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel Al Jubeir and the Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Al Juber, both ministers expressed their grave concerns for Saudi security. We should not underestimate the major blow to national prestige caused by the firing of an Iranian supplied missile at Riyadh on November 4th. Riyadh’s 7.5 million population were able to see the missile on its descent into their airspace. The example that both the Foreign Minister and the Ambassador used was, how would the United Kingdom react if a missile was fired directly at Heathrow terminal 5 by a terrorist group from outside our borders?
The Saudi’s understand their failure to communicate why they are involved in this conflict. In a meeting with the coalition spokesperson Thurki Al Malaki this was pointed out to him. Saudi Arabia’s draconian policies towards Yemen have not been backed up by a suitable explanation as to why they are involved. This could be a result of a desire to project strength, but it has served only to turn international opinion against the regime.
The Houthi’s, in international opinion, are a small mountain-dwelling tribe, embarrassing the Saudi regime at every turn. Such a description greatly undersells their military capacity. The quashing of Saleh’s competent GPC forces in 72 hours in Saana and their ability to launch long-range missiles across the border show a very competent military capability. Bolstered by consistent and proven Iranian support the Houthi’s have transformed themselves into a serious military force, with designs on running Yemen as their Hashemite predecessors did centuries ago. Their ambitions have come a long way since the conclusion of the NDC.
Perhaps the most apt comparison for the Saudi’s current situation with Yemen is the relationship between the UK and Ireland 500 years ago. Back then the predominantly Catholic states of Spain and France would look to use Ireland to destabilise the United Kingdom. The Saudi’s made clear they will not accept an Iranian proxy on their border. Iran has no business in Yemen, and their continued support of the Houthi’s has amounted to a thinly veiled Iranian missile attack on Saudi Arabia. In a region which is renowned for its instability and with an ambitious new Crown Prince, continued Iranian interference in Yemen should be a concern to us all.
With Saleh dead, the question now turns to what is next for Yemen and whether this development makes peace more likely. As the conflict continues Yemeni’s continue to die in their thousands with an estimated 130 children dying each day from preventable causes. The announcements by Saudi Ministers Adel Al Jubeir and Mohammed Al Juber that they are preparing to launch $10billion aid programs for Yemen will be welcomed when they are introduced. But critically it is essential that they need to immediately announce the opening of all ports to humanitarian and commercial aid. If this promise is delivered it will abate the suffering of the 20 million Yemeni’s currently in need.
Meanwhile, the conflict has changed dramatically and the split between the Houthi’s and the GPC may provide a new roadmap to ending the war. There are already claims that forces loyal to Saleh have switched sides and now fight with government supported troops in Taiz and Saada. Saleh’s son Ahmed Saleh arrived in Riyadh days after his father’s death and is now reportedly returning to Yemen to lead government supported troops, with the support of the Emeriti’s. The Saudi’s are embracing a three-track policy towards Yemen with military, economic and political components. Putting this pressure on the Houthi’s while easing the humanitarian suffering of the Yemeni population could be key in turning public opinion away from the Houthi’s and towards the coalition and government supported troops.
The United Kingdom’s policy towards Yemen has been sadly inconsistent and at times non- existent since this conflict began. We must make certain that we now adopt a coherent approach to the conflict and attempt to bring it to an end as soon as possible. The UK must use all the instruments in its diplomatic arsenal to ensure that Saudi Arabia delivers on its promise to open Yemen to aid groups and stops bombings that might kill civilians. The Quint meeting last month in London showed green shoots of progress, but this must be built on immediately in a productive way. In the House on Monday Boris Johnson said that the next meeting was planned for next year. Yemen can’t wait that long.
The UK needs to ensure all sides come to the peace table. After all, Boris Johnson said that this was our ‘top priority’ and that he was receiving daily reports. A new UK-led UN resolution to bring the conflict to a close would be an important step in bringing the war to an end.
On Wednesday in the House of Commons Aid Agencies and the Yemeni Diaspora’s MP’s and Ambassador’s gathered for the Second annual Yemen Day. The situation in Yemen is shambolic and tragic and its outcome remains unclear. However, with recent developments, there is hope that the conflict is edging towards a conclusion. Saleh’s son Ahmed now appears to have momentum behind his bid for power. However, fortune in Yemen has been shown to be fickle. Whether Saleh’s son does take control, whether the Yemeni government will continue to be backed by the Saudi coalition or whether the Saudi’s will back off and initiate a power-sharing agreement with the Houthi’s will become apparent in the coming weeks. There are now only 13 days until Christmas Day during which time a further, 1820 Yemeni children will die from preventable causes. This war remains a stain on the world’s collective morality. Whatever the outcome of Yemen’s new political drama all parties involved must work tirelessly for the end of this senseless war.
Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP called an SO24 Emergency Debate on Yemen in Parliament.
The full debate can be found here https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2017-11-30/debates/1C24E14B-85C7-4C5C-9013-091AC89936F1/Yemen
Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP :
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the current situation in Yemen.
I am extremely grateful to Mr Speaker for granting this debate. There is rapidly rising concern in Britain about what is happening in Yemen and the part that Britain is playing in this crisis. There is deep concern that an almighty catastrophe of biblical proportions is unfolding in Yemen before our eyes, and a considerable fear that Britain is dangerously complicit in it.
I had the opportunity, thanks to Oxfam and the United Nations, to visit Yemen early this year, and I am most grateful to the Saudi Arabian authorities for facilitating that visit. I think I remain the only European politician to have visited Sana’a and the northern part of Yemen in the past three years. I want to pay tribute to the extraordinary work that the humanitarian agencies and the UN are carrying out, particularly the work that Jamie McGoldrick and his team at the UN are so brilliantly doing in almost impossible circumstances.
I returned from Yemen deeply concerned at what I had learned and seen, and I expressed my concern to both the Foreign Office and the British Government privately, and to the Saudi authorities, courtesy of His Excellency the Saudi Arabian ambassador. I regard myself as a friend of Saudi Arabia, albeit a candid one. Like many, I have great respect for the domestic reforms and modernisation currently in progress in the kingdom, which are being led by the Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
My visit to Yemen enabled me both to spend time with the humanitarian agencies and to meet the Houthi leadership, the former President of Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh and those currently leading what is the largest political party in Yemeni politics, the General People’s Congress.
APPG Member Graham Jones (Hyndburn Labour)
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for securing the debate and for giving way.
A recent BBC documentary showed the Houthis in Sana’a putting posters up everywhere, sacking all the Sunni clerics from the mosques and putting Shia clerics in. The poster slogans and the chants in the mosques were “Death to America”, “Death to Israel” and “Curse on the Jews”. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that that is right and progressive and that the Houthis represent a peaceful way forward?
APPG Chair Keith Vaz (Leicester East Labour)
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. He was present at the meeting earlier this week when we heard from the Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister, who said that the Saudi Arabian Government do not believe that this war can be won. What is the point of continuing with a war that cannot be won?
APPG Secretary Alison Thewliss(Glasgow Central) led the SNP response.
I thank the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) for securing the debate. I agree with much of what he said —his expertise on the matter is valuable. I also agree with much that the shadow Foreign Secretary said. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who is steadfast in his work with the all-party parliamentary group on Yemen, and to the aid agencies that are working in circumstances that are incredibly difficult both for their staff and for the people they are working with in Yemen.
The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield mentioned the difficulties in reporting from Yemen, and I rely heavily on some of the first-hand testimony coming through from Twitter, which seems a reasonable way of getting information out of the country. I mentioned the case of Hisham al-Omeisy in a letter to the Government. He was taken by the Houthis on 12 August 2017 and has yet to be seen again. I ask the Government to do all they can to try to secure the safety of journalists in Yemen.
Today I am missing the opening of the new Silverdale nursery in Dalmarnock. The nursery has 140 places for children under five and, while thinking about Yemen, it struck me that if 140 children in Dalmarnock were to die today, we would do something about it. If they were to die tomorrow, we would do something about it. Some 130 under-fives are dying every day in Yemen. If that were happening in this country, we would do something about it urgently and seriously. We would not have our own children dying from the very preventable cause of extreme malnutrition and disease, which take hold so easily when children do not have the food and resilience they need.
One child is dying every 10 minutes in Yemen. It is shocking even to think of the number who have died since the start of this debate. We cannot accept that any longer; it has been going on for far, far too long, and we have a global responsibility to children, wherever they are, to make sure that they are safe, that they are fed and that they will live a happy and healthy life. Anything we can do to that end we must do urgently.
For the children who survive, the impact will be lasting. Millions of children are, and have been, out of school. They do not have a nursery to go to. They are living with stunting, a lifelong condition that will affect their growth and development, including their cognitive development, throughout the rest of their lives. In 2012, UNICEF was already warning of stunting, saying that 58% of children under five were stunted, and that was before this latest conflict. That is a generation being left with a life-limiting condition that we could do more to prevent.
The International Committee of the Red Cross reported yesterday that it had purchased 750,000 litres of fuel to ensure that the water pumps in Hodeidah and Taiz can operate. Those pumps will last only a month on that fuel. The ICRC also reports that nine other cities do not have sufficient fuel to run their water supplies, which is a critical situation given that Yemen has already experienced one of the largest cholera epidemics in history, which has already left about 2,000 people dead. Although the outbreak seems to be on the wane, without water and access to appropriate sanitation it will almost certainly come back. As the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield mentioned, diphtheria, a very preventable disease that we do not even see here, is also taking hold. So I ask the Minister—I know he will do his best on this—to tell us what the Government are doing to ensure that fuel gets into the country, because without it the petrol pumps will run dry, which will have a knock-on effect on food prices.
Aid very much needs to get in, and aid agencies say so, but all agencies are also stressing the absolute necessity of getting commercial goods in. The scarcity and fuel prices mean that prices are high, and even where there is food people cannot afford to feed themselves. They do not know where their next meal is coming from. It must be incredibly heartbreaking for people to be able to see food on a shelf but not be able to afford to buy it to feed their family. We must bear in mind that many employees in Yemen have not been paid for some time—over a year in some cases at least. Médecins sans Frontières reported in October that 1.2 million Yemeni civil servants have received little to no salary for more than a year. MSF pays the salaries of 1,200 public health staff that it is using in its clinics, but clearly that is not enough by any manner of means. If the doctors trying to treat the people who are starving have no money to feed themselves either, the situation is a disaster. I urge Ministers to consider what else they can do to get more money in to allow staff to be paid, to get the economy restarted and to make sure people have something to live on.
I also urge, as I have urged following previous statements, that we need to see aid getting into the country in the first place, so the blockade must be removed as soon as possible. But that aid also needs to be able to travel around Yemen, and the border posts, the visas and the difficulties the aid agencies are facing in getting around the country are preventing that flow of aid. It is also clear that the different factions in the conflict are using the system as a means of diverting aid to their own people, so that aid that might be intended to go to one place of desperate need is being diverted. That is not to say that people there might not need it, because I am sure they do, but it is being diverted from the people who need to get it. We need to make sure that it can get through to those who need it and that it is appropriately used when it gets there. I urge Ministers to do anything they can to make sure that aid convoys going through the country can actually get to where they need to be.
Finally, I wish to touch on the issue of arms sales, because they are a crucial part of the influence and leverage our country has in this conflict. Sadly, the communiqué that came out of the Quint meeting concentrated far, far more on weapons and the security situation, which I know and appreciate is difficult, than on the humanitarian situation and the need to get goods in through the ports. I am sure the 25 aid agencies that contacted the Foreign Secretary in their open letter will feel very let down by that, and I echo the shadow Foreign Secretary’s comments about how the attendance list of that meeting could have been broader. Efforts need to be made to get more people from Yemen—from civil society and from organisations working there on the ground—involved in such things. In addition, if we look at the picture from the meeting, we note that there may be one woman at the back of the photograph, but women are not being included in this process. We need women as part of the process to help make the peace and make it sustainable.
The ongoing conflict in Yemen has witnessed a dramatic escalation over the last few weeks. This began on the night of November 4th, with the firing of an Iranian supplied missile from Houthi controlled territory in Yemen at Riyadh airport. The response of the Saudi Arabian government has been both swift and deadly. Saudi bombing sorties in Yemen have increased in their number and their ferocity with a number of NGO’s on the ground asserting that they have targeted vital arteries for aid into Yemen like Sanaa airport.
The Saudi coalition also initiated a full blockade on Yemen. The stated reason for this is to target Iranian arms smuggling into Yemen but the only victims of this decision will be the 20 million Yemeni’s who require urgent humanitarian assistance, 900,000 of which are suffering from the world’s worst Cholera epidemic.
Before the missile attack, Yemen found itself at the cliff edge, with the population facing the triple threat of cholera, conflict and starvation. Well over 10,000 people have been killed by the war and recent figures have suggested that 130 children in Yemen are dying each day due to preventable causes. Now, with the full blockade instigated, aid groups face even greater restrictions on access which is causing the humanitarian situation to become exponentially worse.
Ships with vital humanitarian aid are being turned away and flights to and from the country are being blocked. Save the Children have reported that 13 shipments of aid to Yemen already been refused admission and the International Committee of the Red Cross said last week it was unable to get clearance to ship chlorine tablets used to prevent cholera. Given that the number of those affected by Cholera in Yemen is more than the entire population of Birmingham these supplies must get through. Since November the 6th 32 UN flights have been unable to land at Saana airport. 15 health facilities established because of closure of hospitals have now suspended their services due to a lack of clean water.
Horrific stories are emerging from Yemen about the implications of the blockade for ordinary Yemeni’s. On the first night of imposition, several Yemeni’s awaiting evacuation for life-saving medical procedures were left stranded on runways to die. 5 of Yemen’s cities are now without access to a water source including Saada, Taiz and Hodeidah. 2.5 million Civilians in these cities now lack access to a clean water source.
It is understandable that the Saudi’s are concerned for their security something that has been repeatedly stated by the Saudi Ambassador to UK Mohammed bin Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Since the conflicts beginning hundreds of missiles have been fired into Saudi territory from Yemen’s ungoverned space. At a recent meeting with the Iranian Ambassador to the UK, Hamid Baeidinejad categorically denied that Iran was involved in smuggling arms into the country. However, the weight of international opinion is that Iran is increasingly moving more and more sophisticated weaponry into Yemen. Despite this, the current blockade is a catastrophic mistake. Not only will this cause untold humanitarian misery for the citizens of Yemen but the action has questionable legal status. A blockade is a legal means of war, however, if it is specifically targeted to cause the collective punishment of civilians it is a war crime as specified in Article 33 of the Geneva Convention. With over 75% of the population requiring urgent humanitarian assistance there are grounds to suggest that the current blockade is indeed illegal. The UK government has been painfully slow to react to developments in Yemen however it is welcome that the government has made a statement supporting the reopening of Saana airport and Hodeidah port.
The announcement of the Coalition on the 22nd of November to open access to Yemen to aid agencies is welcome, provided it occurs. Aid agencies need access now. Anything other than a complete opening of Yemen to humanitarian aid would be catastrophic for Yemen’s war-weary population.
The issue of arms sales to Saudi Arabia has increasingly been raised both in the House of Commons and recently in the US Congress. 3 weeks ago In the United States the bipartisan bill H. Con. Res. 81 was introduced by Congressman Ro Khanna a Democrat and Mark Pocan a Republican to stop US support for the Saudi war in Yemen. The Labour Party is calling for an end of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia until they grant full humanitarian access for aid agencies. The SNP have had this position for some time. An unlikely and unprecedented alliance has now been formed between Jeremy Corbyn, the Scottish Nationalists and the United States Congress. There is no other issue in the world where these three would be in agreement.
As we approach the 1000 day anniversary of the conflicts beginning it is clear that they only way to end the suffering in Yemen is with a successful peace process and a restarting of National Dialogue talks between all of the sides involved. A recent meeting of the Quint countries on Yemen, Foreign Ministers of the United States, the United Kingdom, The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman was cancelled without explanation. Since we are dealing with the worst crisis in the world this is shameful. All of the United Kingdom’s political energies must be expended to ensure that this meeting is rescheduled and the opportunity is properly seized.
With the United States agenda in Yemen being dominated by counter-terrorism concerns, the UK must assume the lead in pushing for a ceasefire and ensuring appropriate humanitarian access is granted. Boris Johnson needs to give effective time to this issue and concentrate his mind on matters in the same way that William Hague did while he was Foreign Minister. It is clear that the Minister of State for the Foreign Office Alistair Burt understands the severity of this issue, Boris Johnson must recognise this too.
In the United Nations, it is the UK that has the capability to drive new resolutions and push for a restarting of the peace process. This lack of confidence in our own ability to bring this conflict to an end is indicative of the current government’s view of Britain’s position in the world. We must be aware of our capacity to influence the outcome of this conflict and to end the suffering of the people in Yemen. The United Kingdom is a key player.
The people of Yemen have suffered for too long. The lack of action is depressing and demoralising. We have to do more to bring this senseless and unwinnable war to an end. The Prime Minister was warned recently that just as history judges’ politicians of the 1990’s on their reactions to the humanitarian catastrophes in Rwanda and Kosovo, she and her administration will be judged on their reaction to the crisis in Yemen. So far, we are failing and the verdict of history will be very harsh indeed.
Keith Vaz MP was born in Aden, Yemen and is the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Yemen.
Today Alistair Burt made a statement on the current political and humanitarian situation in Yemen. The statement comes as the Saudi blockade on Yemen continues, causing untold humanitarian harm.
The full statement and responses can be found here https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2017-11-20/debates/24D5915F-59B6-408C-915F-C5226B74C8E6/Yemen
Statement from Alistair Burt, The Minister of State, Department for International Development
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement to the House on the humanitarian and political situation in Yemen and the implications of the conflict for regional security.
Her Majesty’s Government remain deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Yemen, and the impact that recent restrictions are having on what was already the worst humanitarian crisis in the world and the largest ever cholera outbreak. We recognise the risk of a severe deterioration of the humanitarian situation if restrictions are not quickly removed, and call on all parties to ensure immediate access for commercial and humanitarian supplies through all Yemen’s land, air and sea ports.
We should be clear about the reality of the conflict in Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition launched a military intervention after a rebel insurgency took the capital by force and overthrew the legitimate Government of Yemen as recognised by the UN Security Council. Ungoverned spaces in Yemen are being used by non-state actors and terrorist groups to launch attacks against regional companies, international shipping lanes and the Yemeni people.
As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear, we strongly condemn the attempted missile attack against Riyadh on 4 November. This attack, which has been claimed by the Houthis, deliberately targeted a civilian area and was intercepted over an international airport. The United Kingdom remains committed to supporting Saudi Arabia to address its legitimate security needs. We are therefore deeply concerned by reports that Iran has provided the Houthis with ballistic missiles. That is contrary to the arms embargo established by UN Security Council resolution 2216 and serves to threaten regional security and prolong the conflict. I understand that a UN team is currently visiting Riyadh to investigate those reports. It is essential that the UN conducts a thorough investigation. The UK stands ready to share its expertise to support this process.
We recognise that those who suffer most from this conflict are the people of Yemen. We understand why the Saudi-led coalition felt obliged temporarily to close Yemen’s ports and airports to strengthen enforcement of the UN-mandated arms embargo. It is critical that international efforts to disrupt illicit weapons flows are strengthened. At the same time, it is vital that commercial and humanitarian supplies of food, fuel and medicine are able to reach vulnerable Yemeni people, particularly in the north where 70% of those in need live. Even before the current restrictions, 21 million people were already in need of humanitarian assistance and 7 million were only a single step away from famine. Some 90% of food in Yemen is imported and three quarters of that comes via the ports of Hodeidah and Salif. No other ports in Yemen have the capacity to make up that shortfall.
Our non-governmental organisation partners in Yemen are already reporting that water and sewerage systems in major cities have stopped operating because of a lack of fuel. That means that millions no longer have access to clean water and sanitation, in a country already suffering from the worst cholera outbreak in modern times. The current restrictions on access for both commercial and humanitarian shipments risk making an already dire situation immeasurably worse for the Yemeni people. We have heard the UN’s stark warnings about the risk of famine. We call on all parties to ensure immediate access for commercial and humanitarian supplies to avert the threat of starvation and disease faced by millions of civilians.
We also call for the immediate reopening of Hodeidah port and the resumption of UN flights into Sana’a and Aden airports, as the Foreign Office statement on 15 November made clear. Restrictions on humanitarian flights are causing problems for humanitarian workers, including UK nationals, who wish to enter or exit the country.
We have been urgently and proactively seeking a resolution of this situation. Our ambassador in Riyadh has been in frequent contact with the Saudi Foreign Minister. The Foreign Secretary has discussed the situation in Yemen with His Highness the Crown Prince, with whom we have emphasised the urgency of addressing the worsening humanitarian crisis. The Secretary of State for International Development, since her appointment on 9 November, has spoken both to the UN Secretary-General and the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs about the situation in Yemen. We also continue to work closely with other regional and international partners, including the UN.
The Foreign Secretary spoke to the UN Secretary-General on 18 November. Central to this discussion was how the security concerns of Saudi Arabia can be addressed to enable these restrictions to be lifted. It is vital that the UN and Saudi Arabia enter a meaningful and constructive dialogue on this. More broadly, we will continue to support the people of Yemen through the provision of life-saving humanitarian supplies. The UK is the fourth-largest humanitarian donor to Yemen, and the second-largest to the UN appeal, committing £155 million to Yemen for 2017-18. UK aid has already provided food to almost 2 million people and clean water to over 1 million more.
The only way to bring long-term stability to Yemen is through a political solution. That is why peace talks remain the top priority. The Houthis must abandon preconditions and engage with the UN Special Envoy’s proposals. The UK has played, and continues to play, a leading role in diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful solution. This includes bringing together key international actors, including the US, Saudi Arabia, and Emirati and Omani allies, through the Quad and Quint process. We intend to convene another such meeting shortly. It is vital that we work together to refocus the political track.
The United Kingdom will continue to play a leading role on Yemen through the UN. In June, we proposed and supported the UN Security Council presidential statement, which expressed deep concern about the humanitarian situation in Yemen. The statement called for an end to the fighting and a return to UN-led peace talks, and stressed the importance of unhindered humanitarian access. It is vital that the words of the text are converted into action. The international community’s unified and clear demands must be respected. I commend this statement to the House.
ing your update here
Following the urgent question in Parliament today a statement was made in the House of Lords.
The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Lord Bates) (Con)
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat an Answer to an Urgent Question on Yemen given by my right honourable friend Alistair Burt in another place earlier this afternoon.
“Yemen is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. Some 21 million people in Yemen are in need of humanitarian assistance. Nearly 10 million are in need of immediate help to support or sustain life. As the third-largest humanitarian donor to Yemen and the second-largest donor to the UN appeal, the UK is already leading the world’s response to the crisis in Yemen. Our funding of £155 million this year will provide enough food for 1.8 million people for at least a month, nutrition support for 1.7 million people, and clean water and sanitation for an expected 1.2 million people. As penholder on Yemen at the UN Security Council, the UK was responsible for a presidential statement earlier this year that called on all parties to provide safe, rapid and unhindered access for humanitarian supplies and personnel to all affected governorates in Yemen. We continue to call on all parties to the conflict to respect the statement and take action accordingly.
As the Foreign Secretary set out in his statement of Sunday 5 November, the UK condemns the attempted missile strike on Riyadh last Saturday in the strongest terms. The ongoing ballistic missile attacks by Houthi-Saleh forces against Saudi Arabia threaten regional security and prolong the conflict. This latest attack deliberately targeted a civilian area. We recognise the coalition’s concern about illicit flows of weapons to the Houthis, which is a direct contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 2216.
We recognise that following Saturday night’s attack, Saudi Arabia needs to take urgent measures to stem the flow of weapons into Yemen. At the same time, it is vital that the country remains open to commercial and humanitarian access. The Saudi-led coalition has confirmed that it will take into account the provision of humanitarian supplies. We are encouraging it to ensure that humanitarian and commercial supplies and access can continue. Our ambassador is actively making this case directly to the Saudi authorities on these points.
There remains a desperate need for a political solution to the Yemen conflict to help end the suffering of the Yemeni people, to counter the destabilising influence and interference there, and to end attacks on neighbouring countries. It is vital this situation does not escalate further. The UK will continue to work towards a political settlement that supports regional stability and calls on all countries in the region to support that goal. We will also continue to support our partners in the region to protect themselves against security threats”.
An Urgent Question was asked in Parliament today by Stephen Twigg (Liverpool West Derby) To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if she will make a statement on the impact of the escalation of Saudi Arabia’s blockade on the humanitarian situation in Yemen. The full debate can be found here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2017-11-07/debates/2305FDBD-40B0-42C7-BFC1-9FE28146A236/Yemen
Following the missile attack on Riyadh Airport by the Houthis Saudi Arabia has now shut Yemen’s ports completely. This will have catastrophic humanitarian consequences for the people of Yemen.
I join the Minister in condemning the missile strike on Riyadh by the Houthis, which has been described by Human Rights Watch as ‘’most likely a war crime’’
We have seen alleged violations of international humanitarian law on all sides of this conflict. Will the Minister update the House on progress towards the independent investigation that was agreed at the recent United Nations Human Rights Council? I welcome what he says about seeking to bring all parties back to the table in Geneva. Can he tell us what progress has been made towards securing a ceasefire, so that a political solution can be achieved?
The scale of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is truly appalling. The cholera outbreak is considered the worst on record, and as the Minister said, the UN estimates that more than 20 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance, with 7 million on the brink of famine. The Saudi-led coalition has now intensified its blockade. With 90% of Yemen’s food imported, that risks making the dire humanitarian situation even worse. Does the Minister agree that that blockade could constitute unlawful collective punishment of the people of Yemen?
The Minister mentioned the representations that our ambassador was making. What representations has he and the Foreign Secretary made to Saudi Arabia to have the blockade lifted as soon as possible? I urge the Minister and the Government to do everything in their power to get that inhumane blockade lifted.
First, it has been made clear where the Secretary of State is, and we have apologised for her being on a visit to Africa. Let me answer the question.
The responding Minister was Alistair Burt, The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Alistair Burt)
Yemen is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis: 21 million people in Yemen are in need of humanitarian assistance, and nearly 10 million are in need of immediate help to support or sustain life. As the third-largest humanitarian donor to Yemen and the second-largest donor to the UN appeal, the UK is already leading the world’s response to the crisis in Yemen. Our funding of £155 million this year will provide enough food for 1.8 million people for at least a month, nutrition support for 1.7 million people and clean water and sanitation for an expected 1.2 million people.
As penholder on Yemen at the United Nations Security Council, the UK was responsible for a presidential statement earlier this year that called on all parties to provide safe, rapid and unhindered access for humanitarian supplies and personnel to all affected governorates in Yemen. We continue to call on all parties to the conflict to respect the statement and take action accordingly.
As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary set out in his statement on Sunday 5 November, the UK condemns the attempted missile strike on Riyadh this Saturday in the strongest terms. The ongoing ballistic missile attacks by Houthi-Saleh forces against Saudi Arabia threaten regional security and prolong the conflict. This latest attack deliberately targeted a civilian area. We, therefore, recognise the coalition’s concern about illicit flows of weapons to the Houthis, in direct contravention of UN Security Council resolution 2216.
We also recognise that, following Saturday’s attack, Saudi Arabia needs to take urgent measures to stem the flow of weapons into Yemen. At the same time, it is vital that the country remains open to humanitarian and commercial access. The Saudi-led coalition has confirmed that it will take into account the provision of humanitarian supplies. We are encouraging it to ensure that humanitarian supplies and access can continue. Our ambassador is actively making this case directly to the Saudi authorities.
Finally, there remains a desperate need for a political solution to the Yemen conflict, to help to end the suffering of the Yemeni people, to counter destabilising interference and to end attacks on neighbouring countries. It is vital that this situation does not escalate further. The United Kingdom will continue to work towards a political settlement that supports regional stability, and calls on all countries in the region to support that goal. We will also continue to support our partners in the region in protecting themselves against security threats.
Kate Osamor the Shadow Secretary for International Development said
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) for asking this urgent question. The escalation of the conflict in Yemen in recent weeks, resulting in the Saudi-led coalition closing all land, air and sea entry points, represents a particularly alarming development, even in a protracted conflict that is now more than two years old.
The country is already facing the worst cholera outbreak in recorded history, with more than 800,000 cases, and more than 20 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. The blockading of ports will only add to the already catastrophic humanitarian situation, and the UK must do whatever it can to ensure that we mitigate the impact of this new development.
With the UK’s own actions in mind, will the Minister tell us how the Department for International Development is responding to this new development, and what assessments have been made of the blockade’s impact on DFID’s humanitarian operation across Yemen? Given that other countries, such as the US, refused to sell arms to countries that impose humanitarian blockades, will Her Majesty’s Government now finally re-evaluate their decision to continue to sell arms to the Saudi-led coalition and suspend further arms sales immediately?
The Yemen All Party Parliamentary Group held a meeting in Parliament on the 25th of October 2017 to examine the next steps for Yemen following the United Nations General Assembly.
One month previously the APPG Group had sent a letter to the United Nations General Secretary Antonio Guterres signed by over 110 Parliamentarians. The event was hosted by Kate Osamor, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development who spoke with passion about the current situation faced by Yemenis. Osamor gave a memorable quote stating that for the United Kingdom 'How many more wake up calls do we need when it comes to Yemen.' Speakers on the panel were Dr Hamid Al-Shejni, CEO at the Global Gate Group, Omar Mashjari Executive Director Adalah Yemen, Tufail Hussain Deputy Director of Islamic Relief and H.E Dr Yassin Saeed Noman, Ambassador for Yemen to the United Kingdom.
The event was attended by a number of MPs and Peers including Alison Thewliss MP, Douglas Chapman MP and Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa Alistair Burt. Minister Burt spoke in depth about the need to continue with aid provision to Yemen and also noted the current amounts of UK aid that were being sent to the country.
Dr Noman spoke of the importance of returning to respecting UN Resolution 2216 and also respecting the terms of the National Dialogue Conference.
The panel was in agreement that more aid must be provided to Yemeni citizens and that Saudi restrictions on Yemeni Ports, in particular Hodeidah were worsening conditions for Yemen's citizens.
The event was held against the backdrop of a worsening Cholera epidemic in the country. More than 884,000 people are reported to have contracted the disease since April, and another 2,184 have died.
The All Party Parliamentary Group for Yemen have launched a campaign from Parliamentarians calling on the UN General Secretary to push the P5 in the UN Security Council to introduce a new UN Security Council Resolution to replace the current resolution 2216 introduced in 2015.
Keith Vaz, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Yemen said:
''The United Nations General Assembly will sit for its 72nd session this week. An open letter has been written to Antonio Guterres the General Secretary of the United Nations signed by over 100 parliamentarians, members of the Scottish parliament, union leaders and non-governmental organisations calling for a new UK introduced United Nations Security Council resolution on Yemen. The letter also calls on the United Nations to bring the Yemen conflict to the front and centre of its agenda in this sitting.
The signatures on the letter highlight there is an unmistakable determination in our country to stop the bombing in Yemen and bring the civil war to a peaceful conclusion. Yemen has been brought to its knees over the last two years, with over 10,000 dead, 40,000 maimed, 19.3 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. It’s medical capacity and infrastructure has been destroyed allowing Cholera to spread like wildfire. Because of the UK’s unique relationship with Yemen and our position of influence in the United Nations Security Council we must look to lead the international community and bring this awful conflict to an end.''
The letter and the list of Parliamentarians who have signed is below:
‘‘Dear Secretary General Guterres,
We are writing today concerning the ongoing crisis in Yemen.
As I am sure you are aware, we face a generational catastrophe in Yemen and all current efforts are insufficient in providing help to the Yemeni people.
19 million Yemeni’s are in need of urgent humanitarian aid however, as a result of the conflict this has been difficult for aid agencies to provide.
According to UNICEF a child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen from preventive causes, 3 million people have been displaced and 6.8 million are one step away from famine.
Cholera cases will reach 500,000 by September and have already caused the deaths of over 2000 Yemeni citizens. It is the children who are hit especially hard by this with 40% of new cases occurring in children under the age of 15.
Public services in Yemen have ceased to be paid in 9 months. Not only has this worsened conditions for ordinary Yemeni’s but it has created an economy where one of the few well paid jobs is taking up arms on one of the sides. Humanitarian abuses have occurred on both sides with war crimes and attacks on civilians.
Despite the UN fundraising that raised $2.1billion the only way in which we can abate the suffering of the Yemeni people is to push for a ceasefire through the United Nations.
I have attached a list of Parliamentary Signatures from the UK supporting adding Yemen and its conflict to the agenda at the next UN General Assembly on the 13th September.
Only placing Yemen on the UN’s agenda at the General Assembly and the Security Council and working collaboratively to end the conflict will save the people of Yemen.’’
Keith Vaz MP (Leicester East) Chair APPG for Yemen
Alison Thewliss MP (Glasgow Central) Secretary APPG for Yemen
Jim Shannon MP (Strangford) Vice Chair APPG for Yemen
Graham Jones MP (Hyndburn) Vice Chair APPG for Yemen
Diane Abbott MP (Hackney and North Stoke Newington)
George Adam MSP (Paisley)
Rushanara Ali MP (Bethnal Green and Bow)
Rosena Allin-Khan MP (Tooting)
Jon Ashworth MP (Leicester South)
Colin Beattie MSP (Midlothian North and Musselburgh)
Hillary Benn MP (Leeds Central)
Tracey Brabin MP (Batley and Spen)
Tom Brake MP (Carshalton and Wallington)
Alan Brown MP (Kilmarnock)
Karen Buck MP (Regents Park and Kensington)
Richard Burgon MP (Leeds East)
Lisa Cameron MP (East Kilbride, Srathaven and Lesmahagow)
Ronnie Campbell MP (Blyth Valley)
Dan Carden MP (Liverpool Walton)
Douglas Chapman MP (Dunfermline and West Fife)
Joanna Cherry MP (Edinburgh South West)
Ann Clwyd MP (Cynon Valley)
Rosie Cooper MP (West Lancashire)
Nick Dakin MP (Scunthorpe)
Sir Edward Davey MP (Kingston and Surbiton)
Bob Doris MSP (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn)
Thangam Debbonaire MP (Bristol West)
Ash Denham MSP (Edinburgh Eastern)
Tan Dhesi MP (Slough)
Oliver Dowden MP (Hertsmere)
Caroline Flint MP (Don Valley)
James Frith MP (Bury North)
Gill Furniss MP (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough)
Mike Gapes MP (Ilford South)
Ruth George MP (High Peak)
Stephen Gethins MP (North East Fife)
Kenneth Gibson MSP (Cunninghame North)
Preet Gill MP (Birmingham Edgbaston)
Jenny Gilruth MSP (Mid Fife and Glenrothes)
Mary Glindon MP (North Tyneside)
Kate Green MP (Stretford and Urmston)
Ross Greer MSP (West Scotland)
John Grogan MP (Keighley)
Andrew Gwynne MP (Denton and Reddish)
Harriet Harman MP (Camberwell and Peckham)
Clare Haughey MSP (Rutherglen)
Richard Lyle MSP (Uddingston and Bellshill)
Alison Johnson MSP (Lothian)
Peter Kyle MP (Hove)
Ben Lake MP (Ceredigion)
David Lammy MP (Tottenham)
Jeremy Lefroy MP (Stafford)
Monica Lennon MSP (Central Scotland)
David Linden MP (Glasgow East)
Tony Lloyd MP (Rochdale)
Rebecca Long Bailey MP (Salford and Eccles)
Caroline Lucas MP (Brighton Pavillion)
Rona Mackay MSP (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)
Justin Madders MP (Ellesmere Port and Neston)
Sandy Martin MP (Ipswich)
Rachel Maskell MP (York Central)
John Mason MSP (Glasgow Shettleston)
Chris Matheson MP (City of Chester)
Stuart McDonald MP (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East)
Andy McDonald MP (Middlesbrough)
Fulton MacGregor MSP (Coatbridge and Chryston)
Stuart McMillan MSP (Greenock and Inverclyde)
Angus McNeil MP (Na h-Eileanan an lar)
Ben Macphereson MSP (Edinburgh Northern and Leith)
Carol Monaghan MP (Glasgow North West)
Layla Moran MP (Oxford West and Abingdon)
Grahame Morris MP (Easington)
Ian Murray MP (Edinburgh South)
Madeline Noon MP (Bridgend)
Brendan O'Hara MP (Argyll and Bute)
Kate Osamor MP (Edmonton)
Laura Pidcock MP (North West Durham)
Lord Raj Loomba
Angela Rayner MP (Ashton under Lyne)
Ellie Reeves MP (Lewisham West and Penge)
Jonathan Reynolds MP (Stalybridge and Hyde)
Marie Rimmer MP (St Helens South and Whiston)
Gail Ross MSP (Caithness Sutherland and Ross)
Naz Shah MP (Bradford West)
Tulip Siddiq MP (Hampstead and Kilburn)
Andy Slaughter MP (Hammersmith)
Jeff Smith MP (Manchester Withington)
Angela Smith MP (Penistone and Stockbridge)
Elaine Smith MSP (Central Scotland)
Gareth Thomas MP (Harrow West)
David Torrance MSP (Kirkcaldy)
Anna Turley MP (Redcar)
Valarie Vaz MP (Walsall South)
Thelma Walker MP (Colne Valley)
Catherine West MP (Hornsey and Wood Green)
Admiral Lord West
Phillipa Whitford MP (Central Ayrshire)
Chris Williamson MP (Derby North)
Sammy Wilson MP (East Antrim)
Daniel Zeichner MP (Cambridge)
Keith Vaz, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Yemen has written an article on Yemen's civil war for the Huffington post. The full article is below:
How Two Years Of Civil War Have Pushed Yemen To The Edge
As Parliament falls silent during recess and the rest of the Europe enjoys their summer holiday, in Yemen the 'forgotten war' rumbles on. In the 15 days since Parliament was adjourned an estimated 2,000 Yemeni's, men, women and children have died. By the time the Commons returns in September this number will have increased to over 3,000. Yemenis are facing the triple threat of conflict, cholera and malnutrition and the impact on the population is devastating.
Out of 100 Yemeni people, 74 would need urgent humanitarian aid, 60 would be food insecure, 58 would have no access to clean water and 10 of the women and children would suffer from acute malnutrition. These unbelievable figures are too shocking to visualise.
For over two years the conflict between the Saleh-Houthi forces and the Coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi has ripped the country apart. Civilian infrastructure is destroyed, millions are refugees or internally displaced, thousands have died and Yemen's ungoverned spaces have become safe havens for radical Jihadist groups to germinate, plan and grow. Yemen is a stain on the collective morality of the United Kingdom, the US, the EU and ultimately on the UN itself. It will remain so until we take action to end this man made catastrophe.
The only victims are the Yemeni people. The conflict has created the perfect conditions for diseases to thrive. The wilful destruction of medical infrastructure by continued bombings, the disruption of food supplies and the halt to state worker payments have all aligned to create the world's worst cholera outbreak. In just three months Yemen's cholera count has reached unprecedented levels with over 450,000 cases, more than the population of Edinburgh and already exceeding the highest recorded yearly levels set in 2011 in Haiti.
At a summit meeting convened by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Yemen in Parliament in July the aid agencies working in Yemen met to discuss their work within the country. We all owe these organisations a debt of gratitude for the work they are carrying out however, as Shinjiro Murata the head of Medicines Sans Frontiers Yemen stated 'Cholera is spreading like a wildfire and we cannot keep up.'
These cholera numbers will only rise during the August-September rainy season. Oxfam has stated there will be 600,000 cases countrywide. The disease has hit the children of Yemen disproportionately with 44% of new cholera cases and 32% of fatalities occurring in children under the age of 15.The Cholera outbreak has been exacerbated by malnutrition which has afflicted many areas of Yemen since the civil war began in 2015. Yemen is a major importer of food and its supply routes are controlled by the coalition forces. Fearful of weapons falling into the hands of the Houthi's the waterways around Yemen are tightly controlled and access for food deliveries have been neigh impossible. The food that does come in from private importers is often too expensive for ordinary Yemeni's to access. 17 million Yemeni's suffer from chronic food insecurity and have no idea of where their next meal is coming from. Recent figures compiled by Save the Children this week have reported that over one million children under five-years-old suffer from malnutrition. If we do not act, we will not save the children. What happens in Yemen matters to the security of the United Kingdom. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) now own large swathes of territory in Southern Yemen with a defacto capital in the port city of Mukalla. We all celebrated the fall of Mosul last month as IS was defeated by Iraqi forces, however, we must not be blind to the threat of AQAP in Yemen.
The group controls tax and security in South Eastern Yemen and has filled the governance gaps created by the civil war. If the conflict continues the group will further embed itself with the population. AQAP has shown the capacity and the desire to attack targets overseas. The 2009 failed 'underpants bomber' and the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris both originated in Yemen with the group. As recent IS attacks on London and Manchester have shown there is no such thing as an isolated Jihadist diaspora and what happens within these regions can easily spill onto our streets.
The United Nations has sent a delegation to Yemen which is holding meetings within the region this week in order to restart the peace process. However, the diplomatic process appears as far away now as it was at the conflicts beginning in March 2015.
In the last few weeks the Saudi Arabian led coalition has escalated its bombing campaign of Yemeni cities in response to the Houthi strikes into Saudi Arabia. On July 28th the Saudi's reportedly intercepted a missile fired from the Houthi's just 68km from Mecca. The ultimate fear for humanitarian groups is if the Saudi led coalition attacked Hudaydah port, one of few windpipes through which aid can travel exacerbating the humanitarian crisis. The Houthi's meanwhile have increased their firepower with the help of the Iranian Republican Guard smuggling them weapons through new routes.
Meanwhile the split between the GCC and Qatar threatens to distract regional states from the peace process entirely. There has as of yet been little movement by both sides here and this promises to be a distraction when looking to find a solution to the conflict.While peace doesn't appear on the immediate horizon this conflict is not intractable. Pathways to peaceful solutions exist if the sides don't close themselves to the political solutions. Dr Abu-bakr Al-Kirbi the longest serving Foreign Minister in Yemen's history who also spoke at the Yemen APPG event to a Parliamentary audience said 'the National Dialogue of 2014 as the primary roadmap to achieving a lasting peace between all sides.' Dr Al Kirbi stressed the need for the sides to come together at the negotiating table to end the conflict. Astronomical values of aid have been pledged to Yemen with the UN in June pledging a further $1.2billion to the fractured state. However, without peace in Yemen and a ceasefire between the warring parties this aid will never be sufficient and Yemen will continue to burn.
There are five action points that must be taken to address the conflict as a matter of urgency;
•Theresa May must go the UN General Assembly sitting on September the 12th raise the issue of Yemen. The United Kingdom holds the pens on Yemen in the UN, we can make the difference.
•The United Kingdom should build on this and at the next UN Security Council meeting have Matthew Rycroft, the UK's permanent representative to the UN table a new resolution on Yemen aiming to end the conflict.
•The rift between the GCC and the Qatari's cannot be allowed to distract from the process of achieving peace in Yemen. Donald Trump and the US are key here, the UK should work with our American partner and look to avoid another roadblock in the region for Yemen's peace process.
•We must generate more coverage of Yemen by consistently raising the issue. There has been more coverage of Love Island this summer than on the tragic events in Yemen and we must work hard to ensure the population is aware of the event. If access continues to be an issue as it was for some BBC reports in July we must openly question why the Saudi coalition are preventing this from occurring.
• UK's must focus on issues with the Yemeni central bank, in particular addressing public sector payment issues which are hindering current humanitarian efforts and exacerbating current issues.
The people of Yemen are counting on us and we must answer their cries. Whenever we look back on historic humanitarian catastrophes the first question we ask ourselves is why? We can stop the suffering of the Yemeni people if we act now. Anything other than urgent action will be deemed by future generations as a catastrophic failure
Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) was granted a Westminster Hall debate today to discuss the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen. The full transcript of the debate can be found here https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2017-07-05/debates/9FCB904C-19D6-4FD7-82F6-15AFDBC8AC73/YemenPoliticalAndHumanitarianSituation
Stephen Doughty Said: I beg to move,
That this House has considered the political and humanitarian situation in Yemen.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today for this important debate, Mrs Moon.
I am delighted to speak on this issue today and to have been granted this debate so early in the new Parliament, particularly given the pressing nature of the humanitarian crisis in recent weeks, not least as regards cholera, as we will all have seen on our television screens.
As many Members will be aware, this is, sadly, one of many debates that we have secured on Yemen in the past year, including in the last Parliament. I must start by expressing my deep sadness, regret and, quite frankly, abject frustration that we have seen so little progress, so much further decline into misery and chaos, and such a failure to grasp the nettle by the international community, the UK Government—I am sorry to say—and the parties to this conflict, who must ultimately bear full responsibility for the shocking scenes that we have seen in recent weeks of emaciated bodies wracked by the preventable, treatable disease of cholera, along with the further needless civilian deaths from bombing, blockades and siege tactics.
This House is already significantly occupied by Brexit, and vast parts of our diplomatic and civil service apparatus have been turned to its machinations, but I fear that it will only exacerbate our apparent lack of focus on Yemen and so many other humanitarian crises around the world.
Chair of the APPG for Yemen Keith Vaz MP said:
May I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate so early in the new Parliament? It is true that the Foreign Office may be concerned with Brexit, but at the United Nations we hold the pen as far as Yemen is concerned and it is not preoccupied by Brexit. What we need is a UN resolution adopted as quickly as possible—immediately, in fact—to deal with the crisis that he is talking about and has raised so many times in the House
Graham Jones MP, Vice Chair of the APPG:
First of all, I congratulate my hon. Friend on a speech that I pretty much agree with; it is welcome that he has brought this debate to Westminster Hall. However, does he understand or recognise that part of the problem that the UN has recognised is the amount of arms that are entering Yemen, and that one reason for the blockade—the UN supports it to a degree, but does not support attempts to stop aid getting in—is to stop the arms getting in to the Houthis? That is one reason for the blockade, as the Houthis control 90% of the population and are getting these arms from places such as Oman and Iran. Of course the blockade has an adverse effect, but does he understand and respect that the issue is that there are too many arms in Yemen right now, and they are not just coming from Saudi Arabia?
Alison Thewliss Secretary APPG for Yemen
After first mentioning that more than 2 million children under the age of 5 are acutely malnourished, including half a million who are at the most extreme level of that critical danger, I was going to come on to the situation with the cranes and the ports. The World Food Programme has, I understand, been refused access for the four new mobile cranes that it had provided to aid the situation. Could the Minister provide any further updates on the situation with the cranes? If food and medical supplies cannot get in, we are unlikely to see any alleviation of the problem.
It is not just about access to Hodeidah port. There is no access to Sana’a Airport, and the route through Aden is at capacity; people cannot get anything more through there. The aid that is getting through Aden is then subject to an overland journey, which is, as hon. Members can imagine, very difficult and extremely dangerous in a conflict situation for the aid agencies involved. They are having to take aid overland. Had access been possible, that aid could quite easily have gone through Hodeidah port.
On 2 July, the World Health Organisation managed to get a shipment in through Hodeidah, which included 20 ambulances, 100 cholera kits, hospital equipment and 128,000 bags of intravenous fluids. It sounds like big numbers, and it was a 403 tonne shipment that they managed to get in—but there are 200,000 cases of cholera. That is not even enough bags of intravenous fluids for every person that has cholera. It is a drop in the ocean in terms of the need in that region; there is a need to get aid in quickly and to prevent any further delays. We must make all the efforts we can to make sure that aid gets to the people that need it and gets there now. The people in Yemen cannot wait any longer.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) mentioned the issue of arms sales. It is absolutely clear that aid agencies that are working so hard on the ground are being impeded in their work by the bombs falling from the sky above them and the danger that they face every single day. They cannot provide the services that they would like to, because they are constantly under attack.
The responding Minister was The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Rory Stewart)
First, I pay tribute to the extraordinary range and passion of these debates. The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) is a doughty, redoubtable opponent. He knows an enormous amount about this subject. I was privileged to work with him on the Commonwealth Development Corporation Bill Committee, where I developed an enormous respect for his eye for detail and his ability to discover the most vulnerable and important points in an argument.
It will be difficult to touch on everyone’s points in 10 minutes, but I will run through them quickly. The hon. Gentleman produced a large overview of the context of the problems and pushed hard a strong moral line on what he felt the solution should be. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who has been probably the greatest champion for Yemen in the House of Commons since he entered the House—he was born in Aden, like his sister—has kept a focus in endless forums on one of the most horrifying situations in the contemporary world, and strongly on the UN resolution. The hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) showed her own focus on this issue and in particular on technical issues around Hodeidah port.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) wanted to focus on specific questions about additional support on human rights. I very much hope he will again be the Chair of the International Development Committee, and I agree with the challenge that came from my friend the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) about the importance of setting up the Committees on Arms Export Controls as quickly as possible. The answer is that we are focused on providing additional support to the Human Rights Commission and have made that clear on a number of occasions—indeed we are already producing support.
The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) brought us into the discussion about the role of the Houthi-Saleh alliance and its culpability in these affairs. Indeed, the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth focused on that as well. The hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) posed a big moral challenge to the Government, and the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) brought us back to questions that touch in particular on arms sales.
I will try to address those questions in total—they are very deep and important questions. Of course, the honest answer is that we do not have all the solutions to those problems. The British Government are doing an enormous amount—probably more than we are being given credit for in this Chamber—but clearly all the things we are doing are not sufficient to solve this crisis. The problem is—the hon. Member for Leeds North East pointed this out—although it is true that we are spending only about £180 million[Official Report, 20 July 2017, Vol. 627, c. 1-2MC.] in Yemen, we have to bear it in mind that, unfortunately, the situation in Yemen is not the only situation in the world. We are spending 0.7% of our GDP on international development and we have to make some difficult choices, because—this is the main point—the situation we face in Yemen has similarities with situations we are struggling with all over the world.
Whatever solutions are proposed here—and whatever belief there is from the hon. Member for Glasgow Central that it is within the power of the United Kingdom to sort the situation out—need to be addressed also to the problems in north-east Nigeria, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. I raise that because the fundamental problems on the ground in Yemen are driven by the region and the internal politics of Yemen. Those are fundamentally political problems. Some of their roots stretch back to the original formation of the Yemeni state.
I have not been to Yemen since March 2014. If any Member in the Chamber has been to Yemen more recently, I would love to hear from them. None of us in the Chamber has been to Yemen in the past three years. That is an important fact to bear in mind when we talk about the situation, and it is important because the situation is changing very quickly. Even since my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) visited, the situation has changed again and again.
The Prime Minister raised it directly on her April visit to Saudi Arabia, Ministers have raised it repeatedly and we have had senior military staff on the ground.
The overall picture, which I will try to touch on, is how we combine those political levers and our influence on Saudi Arabia with the influence that can be exercised by others. What influence could we exercise on, for example, the United Arab Emirates, in order to influence Saudi Arabia? What influence can we exercise on the United States? The hon. Member for Glasgow Central raised the issue of the Hodeidah port. One of the most important things that happened in changing our fears around that port was General Mattis’s intervention on the question of a military intervention there, which made a huge difference.
It is really important to understand that, along with those political and diplomatic approaches, we have to combine our humanitarian approach, which I do not think we have talked about enough, and we have to think about a long-term political solution. In terms of that humanitarian approach, we are doing an enormous amount. We are putting in people to focus on cholera and we have a huge focus on food delivery and shelter.
We are also doing an enormous number of smaller things, for which we are not getting credit. We are working with the UN specifically on the crane issue, on funding UN Humanitarian Air Service flights and on specifically funding the office of Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who is the UN envoy to Yemen. Those are smaller, million-pound projects that are all trying to identify weaknesses in the system that we can then plug. We are also working on financial flows and on trying to make sure that wheat gets in.
However, the overall solution to this situation has to be political. That is where we need to get to—but what does it look like? It is fine for me to stand up here and spout jargon. In theory, that political solution involves a genuinely inclusive answer. It has to include not only the regional powers but, above all, without fear or favour —as identified by Simon Shercliff, our really good ambassador to Yemen—all the warring parties. It cannot be a military solution, and it must include other people.
The solution must include people in Hadramaut, who have not been included in conversations to date, and it must also really think about how we include women. That is not a trivial point. One of the real strengths of what happened in 2013-14 was the genuine inclusion of Yemeni civil society. That made a huge difference, because although Yemen is now being presented to us as though it is nothing but some medieval tribal cockpit of violence, it is in fact a highly sophisticated society with a very active civil society, and the inclusion of women in civil society groups will be central to getting a lasting solution. It will also mean that we, the British Government, will have to be honest with Parliament about the real problems that we face.
There is a huge emphasis on the security side, huge diplomatic pressure and a lot of humanitarian spending. However, above all, these are the questions I will pose to finish on: first, where is the UN going to go on this? One problem is that it will be extremely difficult, in the current context, to get a new UN Security Council resolution through, because some members of the Security Council will oppose it. Secondly, what is the current relationship between Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed and the Houthi? He was shot at when he last went into Sana’a. Thirdly, what is the UAE’s position? Fourthly, how will it be possible to integrate other groups? Finally, what is the long-term position of President Hadi? Those critical, detailed questions will determine our success or failure.