Islamic Relief previously warned that the US designation of the de-facto authorities in Yemen will put civilian lives at risk and threaten humanitarian aid. Now we have joined 22 of the biggest international humanitarian organisations to issue a joint statement:
24 January 2021
Twenty-two aid organisations working in Yemen remain extremely concerned about the humanitarian consequences of the designation of Ansar Allah as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) and Specially Designated Terrorist Group (SDGT) which came into effect on 19 January. This designation comes at a time when famine is a very real threat to a country devastated by six years of conflict, and it must be revoked immediately. Any disruption to lifesaving aid operations and commercial imports of food, fuel, medicine and other essential goods will put millions of lives at risk.
The four general licences issued by the US government aim to allow for the continued flow of aid to Yemen, seeking to mitigate the impacts of the designations, including by providing broad authorisations for humanitarian organisations. The legal implications of the designation and its impact on our work on the ground are yet to be clarified. However, it is already clear that even with licences and exemptions in place for humanitarian work, the designation will have serious implications, causing delays and uncertainty in our ability to deliver assistance and making it even more difficult to operate in Yemen, particularly in areas controlled by the de facto authorities which are home to the majority of people in need.
In addition to the lack of clarity in the humanitarian activities authorised in the licences, we have grave concerns about the disruption to the commercial sector, as the licences and associated guidance do not provide sufficient assurances to international banks, shipping companies and suppliers that face the risk of falling foul of US laws. As a result, many in the commercial sector will likely feel the risk is too high to continue working in Yemen. Yemeni import companies, which bring in 80 to 90 per cent of the country’s food, fuel and medicines, are already warning that they may have to shut down business. Crucially, this will drive up prices of food, fuel and other basic goods, bringing these essential items even further out of people’s reach in a country where 16 million people are close to starvation. Aid agencies cannot fill the gap or replace the commercial sector, even with licences or other exemptions in place: the scale is too immense.
Yemen’s economy is seeing record levels of inflation, Covid-19 has heavily impacted people’s livelihoods and this designation will likely mean that banks will stop lending money and providing financial services to Yemen. Yemenis working abroad who send money home to their families will struggle to do so through formal channels. Remittances are a lifeline, with up to one in ten Yemenis relying on them to meet their essential needs, and are the biggest source of foreign exchange into the country, making up to 20 per cent of the country’s GDP. Yemen’s access to foreign currency will be curtailed, which will make it difficult to import goods and will push inflation even higher. Humanitarian exemptions will not be able to shield the country from another major economic shock at a time when people are struggling to make ends meet.
This is why today we make an unprecedented and united call for the Biden administration to immediately revoke the designation. This echoes the urgent calls made by UN leaders during the 14 January United Nations Security Council briefing on Yemen. Revocation is the only effective way to protect Yemeni civilians from the potentially catastrophic humanitarian impact the designation will cause.
Finally, the designation of Ansar Allah as a terrorist organisation will likely hurt UN-led efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, as Martin Griffiths warned in his Security Council briefing. By supporting the UN-led peace process – the only sustainable solution to the crisis in Yemen – the new Biden administration still has the chance to reverse the course of the designation and instead mobilise the warring parties and international community to end the conflict and suffering.
Action contre la Faim
Danish Refugee Council
Handicap International – Humanity & Inclusion
International Medical Corps
International Rescue Committee
Médecins du monde
Norwegian Refugee Council
Première Urgence – Aide Médicale Internationale
Save the Children
Search for Common Ground