In a series of videos and documents sent to Al Jazeera, almost two dozen displaced Yemeni civilians report that they were rounded up, beaten, and then forcefully driven from the city of Aden back to active front lines in Northern Taiz and Sanaa by militias affiliated with the United Arab Emirates. Others report that young men have been kidnapped and wrongly imprisoned in Emirati-run prisons as well. These deportations and kidnappings were allegedly carried out by the Security Belt, a force set up by the UAE in 2016 to police the southern provinces of war-ravaged Yemen.
One recently deported resident said the Security Belt “forced us out.” According to him, “there were a large number of us and we had a lot of money [invested in Aden], but they harassed us, and told us this is not your country.” Another man says, “they gave us 24 hours to leave and said if we don’t, we’ll open fire on you.” Shops, restaurants, and homes were all reportedly raided and consequently, hundreds of people were arrested and their assets seized.
Some, however, allege that the deportations were part of a larger campaign by Shalal Shaya, Aden’s Security Chief and an advocate for the partition of Yemen along Southern and Northern lines. According to the UN, Shaya has a close working relationship with the Emirati government and has set up secret prisons in the Aden governate. It is known that the UAE has offered considerable humanitarian assistance and support to the Southern Transitional Council (STC), a political movement established in 2016 demanding secession for Southern Yemen. With this support, the STC has been intensifying its demands to secede from the North and was able to seize control of several military bases in Aden from the Yemeni army earlier this year. Since then, the political group has been accused of propagating division and hatred in Aden, resulting in a spike in attacks against displaced Yemenis, many of which are fleeing intense, Saudi-led coalition air strikes in the provinces of Taiz, Hudaida, and Sanaa. It is clear here that displaced Yemenis are being driven into more danger from all sides: by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and other Yemenis.
Aden, a former British colony, was one of the first cities to expel Houthi rebels after they expanded their influence from the country’s remote northern regions and into Sanaa. Saudi warplanes, Emirati special forces, and soldiers backing non-Houthi President, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, then began to work together to expel the rebels from the North. Since then, the Yemeni government has frequently accused the UAE of trying to exploit the conflict for its own interests, thereby further weakening President Hadi’s leadership. The Saudi government has also been accused of the same.
This civil war has taken a toll on the country; more than 10,000 civilians have been killed and millions of Yemenis are now left without basic necessities. Undoubtedly, a massive humanitarian crisis and multiple human rights violations are occurring, with the worst victims being unarmed civilians. The airstrikes conducted by U.S-backed Saudi forces, and now the deportations and kidnappings by the UAE’s Security Belt, only further exacerbate the dangerous situation and are promoting more division between Southern Yemenis and Northern Yemenis as well. All parties involved need to consider the conditions of civilian victims and need to put their own interests aside so that there can be an end to this conflict. This is especially true of those responsible for driving the displaced Yemenis into more danger. In particular, the involvement of Saudi Arabia and the U.S. needs to stop and these countries must answer for the air strikes that they are conducting. The UAE too needs to assume less of an occupative role and should stop financing the division-propagating STC council. Most of all, the Southern and Northern Yemeni leaders must sit down and discuss what they want for the country, something that hasn’t happened in a long time. This also means that the leaders must be willing to lose some power or control in order to reach a negotiated settlement, with settlement seemingly being Yemen’s only viable path at this point. If separation does not occur, the Houthis and non-Houthis can at least drop their weapons and form a unity-government to represent the entire country. Peace is possible, but only if all parties involved are willing to try.
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