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International humanitarian organizations in Yemen are calling on all actors to lift restrictions on Yemeni airspace and allow for the reopening of the country’s main airport, Sana’a International. The official closure of Sana’a airport, one-year ago today, effectively traps millions of Yemeni people and serves to prevent the free movement of commercial and humanitarian goods.
The impact of the decision to close the airport on the lives of Yemenis has been severe. The Ministry of Health estimates that 10,000 Yemenis have died from critical health conditions for which they were seeking international medical treatment, but were unable to do so due to the airport closure. While difficult to verify independently, this estimate is roughly equivalent to the number of people that have died as a direct result of the fighting. It represents the hidden victims of the conflict in Yemen.
Prior to the conflict, an estimated 7,000 Yemenis were travelling abroad from Sana’a each year to access medical treatment, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Because of the unrelenting violence, the amount of people that require lifesaving health care abroad has grown exponentially to an estimated 20,000 Yemenis over the last 24 months, OCHA claims. Yemenis awaiting critical medical treatment abroad now have to find alternative routes to leave the country, which include a 10- to 20-hour drive to other airports, often through areas where active fighting takes place.
This situation violates the freedom of movement of the population, a human right safeguarded in article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yemeni people find themselves in a very restrictive situation to travel abroad to seek medical attention, study, conduct business or visit relatives.
The closure of Yemen’s main international airport also negatively affects the speed at which humanitarian organizations can deliver much needed commercial supplies and humanitarian aid to the roughly 20 million Yemenis in need of it. Nearly all humanitarian organizations are forced to rely on the UN Humanitarian Air Service for travel in and out of the country.
The current cholera outbreak and near-famine conditions in many parts of Yemen make the situation far worse. The importance of unhampered delivery of humanitarian aid cannot be overstated.
All channels of domestic and international movement should therefore be reopened immediately.
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