On Wednesday, the government of the Middle Eastern country, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, launched an offensive to seize al Hodeidah from the rebel Houthi movement after the latter failed to respond to the government's offer to withdraw from the port city in order to peacefully resolve the conflict. Various international organizations and rights groups have called on the Yemeni warring parties to exercise restraint amid increasing hostilities in the city.
"The military offensive on Yemen’s busy port city of Hodeidah, which began yesterday (13/08), is putting the lives of 600,000 people at risk. IOM, the UN Migration Agency, warns of the drastic impacts that the military operation is having on migrants and humanitarian access to all affected communities. With its UN and other partners, IOM urges restraint and calls for respect of International Humanitarian Law, especially the protection of civilians, including migrants," the IOM said in a statement.
"Nearly 60 IOM national staff are present in Hodeidah, with four performing critical programme functions and the rest currently on standby to join active duty, working from home for their own protection. In the coming days, IOM hopes to deploy an international presence to Hodeidah to support national staff in responding to the humanitarian needs of displaced and conflict-affected Yemenis and migrants," the statement pointed out.
Al Hodeidah is one of the most densely populated Yemeni areas. The city’s port is vital for the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Middle Eastern country, devastated by three years of conflict between the government and the Houthis.
The conflict has resulted in thousands of people being killed and a major nationwide humanitarian crisis. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in 2018, 22.2 million Yemenis need assistance, which is one million more than in 2017.
Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross has warned that tens of thousands may flee al Hodeidah as the lifeline port braces for the siege.
"Tens of thousands of people are likely to flee the city in the coming days. The ICRC is concerned for those who were displaced already and might have to flee a second time," the health charity tweeted on Friday.
The charity said civilians were living under immense pressure, stocking up on food and fuel amid fears of an impending siege.
"Now the signs of poverty are everywhere. People live in slums in the outskirts surviving on bread crumbs they find in the garbage. With the little money they do have, they buy cooking oil in plastic bags — just enough to cook 1 meal a day," the Red Cross said.
Those who have jobs feed several families at once, it said. Beggars help those even less fortunate. Families with stricken children come to the ICRC in search of medical help because hospitals have run out of fuel. There are more and more fighters in the streets, and children are getting used to the sounds of gunfire and airstrikes.