Analysis Main Publications News The Yemen Review Publications Index

The last major stronghold of the internationally recognized government in northern Yemen, Marib governorate lies 173 kilometers to the northeast of the country’s Houthi-controlled capital, Sana’a. Renewed fighting began in Marib in July 2020 but escalated significantly in September and October 2021.

The upsurge in the scale and intensity of the fighting is a result of a resurgent campaign by the armed Houthi movement, made possible after the group consolidated control over southeastern Marib, neighboring Bayda’ governorate, and the three districts of Shabwah governorate that border Marib – Bayhan, Ain and Usaylaan. Control of these areas enabled Houthi forces to secure a supply route from Sana’a to Marib, and thousands of Houthi fighters have since descended onto the active frontlines south of Marib, edging their way toward Marib city as the southern districts of the governorate have fallen.

As the internationally recognized government steadily loses its grip on the governorate, the recent fighting has become increasingly devastating for the civilian population. In 2004, before the onset of the current conflict, the population of the governorate stood at 238,522.[1] But between 2014 and 2021, some two to three million internally displaced people (IDPs) have spent time in Marib.[2] With the possibility of the siege or seizure of Marib city by Houthi forces, thousands of IDPs are now preparing to flee for a second or third time.

A History of Displacement

After Houthi forces consolidated their control over Sana’a in 2015, a wave of displacement was seen throughout the country. People fled areas with active frontlines in search of safety and stability, settling in comparatively calmer districts. Marib governorate became a key destination for IDPs, as it was relatively isolated from the conflict.[35] Many northerners, both families and business owners, who fled Houthi rule but felt unwelcome in southern Yemen, due to historical animosities between two regions, also turned to Marib. The city also benefited from its proximity to Yemen’s northern border with Saudi Arabia and harmonious relations between its respective tribes. Thousands of highly qualified Yemenis fled conflict zones and settled in the city, bringing with them their professional expertise and directly contributing to the city’s transformation. By 2018, new developments were spreading, investment and real estate prices had increased, and businesses began to flourish.

The governorate also benefited from the decision in 2015 to cut ties with the Central Bank of Yemen (CBY) in Sana’a, allowing the governorate maintain control over local revenues from Marib’s extensive oil and gas resources. Marib Governor Sultan Aradah later forged an agreement with the internationally recognized government that allowed the governorate to keep 20 percent of local oil and gas revenues. In mid-2021, Marib’s crude oil exports were estimated to be worth US$19.5 million per month.[3]

Prior to the escalation of fighting in September 2021, Marib city hosted 602,000 IDPs, Al-Jubah district hosted 9,300 IDPs, Marib al-Wadi hosted 101,000 IDPs and Al-Abdiyah district hosted 16,800 IDPs.[4] Among these IDPs, 80 percent were women and children, whom the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) noted suffer disproportionately from the overcrowding and lack of basic services in overpopulated camps.[5] In addition, 4,000 IDPs are migrants who were stranded in the governorate while attempting to cross into Saudi Arabia. Most struggle to find jobs and access basic services, and face various forms of abuse.[6]

According to UNHCR,[7] roughly 172,000 individuals were forcibly relocated in Yemen in 2020, which contributed to Yemen having the world’s fourth largest number of IDPs after Syria, Colombia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One in every four displaced Yemeni families is headed by a woman or girl; 20 percent of them are under 18 years of age. In 2021, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated there were some 1.6 million children among the IDPs in Hudaydah and Marib governorates.[8]

The Long Route to Safety

The escalation of conflict in Marib in September forced thousands more civilians to seek safety away from Marib’s active frontlines and led to an alarming rise in the number of displaced. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says Marib now has more than 125 IDP camps, nineteen more than it had in 2020.[9] Around 70 percent of the IDPs are in Marib city, including the largest camp, Al-Jufainah, which now holds up to 10,000 people.[10] The number of IDPs in the city has also risen due to recent advances by Houthi fighters in neighboring Shabwa governorate. As the wave of displacement increases, an enormous and growing burden is placed on available resources and aid workers.[11]

More than 10,000 people were displaced in Marib governorate in September, the highest recorded figure in any month during 2021.[12] Since, the humanitarian situation has worsened after fighting in the southern districts of Al-Abdiyah, Al-Jubah and Jabal Murad. Accurate estimates are difficult to obtain due to the difficulties of communication in contested areas, but the IOM says more than 4,700 people[13] have fled the conflict toward Al-Jubah and Marib al-Wadi districts and Marib city. This brings the total number of people seeking refuge in Marib city to around 170,000 since January 2020, many of whom have been displaced multiple times previously.[14] Some have moved into established camps, exacerbating overcrowded conditions and a lack of resources, but the majority are still without proper shelter, seeking protection in such places as abandoned buildings, caves and under bridges.[15]

Following their gains in Al-Bayda and Shabwa, Houthi fighters besieged Al-Abdiyah district in the south of Marib governorate on September 23, preventing civilians from traveling in and out and hindering humanitarian aid workers from accessing the area. After three days and tribal mediation, residents were allowed to purchase necessary goods and services from the neighboring Mahiliyah district.[16] After Houthi forces consolidated their control of Al-Abdiyah, hundreds of families then fled, heading towards Marib city.

Approximately 40,000 people – almost 70 percent – of the IDPs in southern Marib governorate this year have been forced to flee since September. According to the Executive Unit for IDP Camps in Marib,[17] a total of 8,088 families, or approximately 54,502 people, were displaced inside the governorate as of the end of October. Around 287 families were reportedly displaced from one location to another within Al-Jubah and Rahabah districts. Marib city hosts around 5,000 displaced families, while Marib al-Wadi hosts 2,799 families from the southern districts in the governorate and Ain, Bayhan and Usaylaan districts in Shabwa. Currently, thousands of civilians are under direct threat from fighting or targeted missile attacks. On October 31, two Houthi ballistic missiles hit the Dar al-Hadith Salafi religious center in Al-Amoud village in Al-Jubah district.[18] The facility, which includes a school and mosque, was hosting several Salafi families displaced from Dammaj in Sa’ada governorate, following battles with Houthi forces there between 2011 and 2014. At least 26 civilians were killed and many more wounded in the missile strikes.[19] Estimates indicate that around 500,000 people are likely to be displaced if Marib city and the Marib al-Wadi district are captured by Houthis troops.[20]

Looking Ahead

Yemen’s humanitarian crisis has deepened as the conflict has continued to rage. The intensity of the fighting has steadily risen since 2020. Flooding and the Covid-19 pandemic have aggravated health and safety conditions in displacement camps. Internal displacement affects more than the security and livelihoods of the people, in that it also directly impacts their health, education and chance to lead a normal life in the future. Because of the increasing trend of repeated displacement, IDPs are at a severe disadvantage. Research has shown that prolonged displacement increases the risk of mental disorders.[21] As the war continues and clashes worsen, Yemenis will continue to seek shelter and safety. IDPs are a forgotten consequence of the violent power struggle the country is experiencing. The death toll from war is tragic in itself, but the fate of the displaced must not pass unnoticed.


Endnotes:

  1. “Marib Governorate [AR],” Yemen National Center for Information, https://yemen-nic.info/contents/Brief/detail.php?ID=7611&print=Y
  2. Saad Hizam Ali, “Improving Marib Authorities’ Skills, Capacities to Meet IDP Influx,” Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies, September 5, 2020, https://sanaacenter.org/publications/main-publications/11466
  3. Saad Hizam, “Improving Marib Authorities’ Skills, Capacities to Meet IDP Influx,” Sana’a Center, September 5, 2020, https://sanaacenter.org/publications/main-publications/11466
  4. “Conflict escalation in Marib and potential humanitarian and economic impacts: Scenario,” ACAPS, July 26, 2021, https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/conflict-escalation-marib-and-potential-humanitarian-and-economic-impacts-scenario
  5. “Yemen: Situation Update – Humanitarian Impact in Marib, Shabwa and Al-Bayda [EN/AR],” OCHA, October 13, 2021, https://bit.ly/3pXxH91
  6. “Shelter needs soar for newly displaced in Yemen’s Marib,” UNHCR, August 24, 2021, https://www.unhcr.org/uk/news/briefing/2021/8/61249d4b4/shelter-needs-soar-newly-displaced-yemens-marib.html
  7. Ibid.
  8. “Yemen Humanitarian Crisis,” UNHCR, undated webpage, https://www.unrefugees.org/emergencies/yemen/
  9. “Remarks on the situation in Yemen by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore at the 8840th meeting of the UN Security Council,” UNICEF, August 26, 2021, https://www.unicef.org/yemen/press-releases/remarks-situation-yemen-unicef-executive-director-henrietta-fore-8840th-meeting-un
  10. “Displacement In Ma’rib,” IOM Yemen, March 3-9, 2021, https://bit.ly/3jUw4VL
  11. Ibid.
  12. By contrast, the withdrawal of forces allied with the internationally recognized government from Hudaydah governorate in November 2021 caused a wave of displacement due to fear of reprisals from Houthi forces. According to the internationally recognized government’s Executive Unit of Internally Displaced Persons, at least 700 families, or around 4,900 people, went to Al-Khawkhah city, while 184 families, comprising around 1,300 people, headed further south to Al-Mokha district.
  13. “Yemen: Situation Update – Humanitarian Impact in Marib, Shabwa and Al-Bayda [EN/AR],” OCHA, October 13, 2021, https://bit.ly/3pXxH91
  14. “Thousands of People Forced to Flee Escalating Hostilities in Yemen’s Marib,” IOM, October 7, 2021, https://www.iom.int/news/thousands-people-forced-flee-escalating-hostilities-yemens-marib
  15. Ibid.
  16. According to local sources who spoke to the Sana’a Center, October 2021.
  17. According to local sources who spoke to the Sana’a Center, September 2021.
  18. “Developments of the New Displacement Situation on Marib Governorate,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Republic of Yemen, November 1, 2021, https://www.mofa-ye.org/Pages/15257/
  19. “Houthi missile attack on mosque, religious school kills and injures 29 civilians in Yemen – minister,” Reuters, November 1, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/official-houthi-missile-attack-kills-injures-29-civilians-yemens-marib-minister-2021-11-01/
  20. According to local sources who spoke to the Sana’a Center, October 2021.
  21. “Conflict escalation in Marib and potential humanitarian and economic impacts: Scenario,” ACAPS, July 26, 2021, https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/conflict-escalation-marib-and-potential-humanitarian-and-economic-impacts-scenario
  22. C. Siriwardhana and R. Stewart, “Forced migration and mental health: Prolonged internal displacement, return migration and resilience,” International Health, 5/1 (March 2013), 19-23, https://doi.org/10.1093/inthealth/ihs014
SHARE