UN envoy calls for urgent reopening of Sanaa airport

SANAA: The UN Yemen envoy called on Friday for the urgent reopening of the airport in the capital Sanaa, which has been closed to all but limited UN flights for a year.
An Gulf Arab coalition supporting the government imposed an air and sea blockade on territory in March 2015 and tightened it in August last year saying it was the only way to stop weapons smuggling.
But UN agencies and aid groups have called repeatedly for the airport to be reopened to allow the delivery of desperately needed relief to the millions of Yemenis caught up in the conflict who face a deadly cholera outbreak and looming famine.
“I reiterate my call for the urgent and immediate need to reopen Sanaa international airport as soon as possible,” UN Yemen envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed tweeted after three days of talks in neighbouring Saudi Arabia. The Arab coalition said late on Thursday that it was ready to allow the reopening of the airport on condition the UN provided support for airport security.
It said the airport remained closed “due to concerns for the safety of civilian travel and commercial flights, as well as the smuggling of weapons by rebels”.
In March, the coalition made a similar request for the supervision of the Red Sea port of Hodeida but the request was rejected by the UN.
More than 8,300 people have been killed in the conflict in Yemen since March 2015 and nearly 2,000 more have died of cholera since April 2016.
The UN has warned seven million people are on the brink of famine.
Meanwhile, UN Chief Antonio Guterres said, he was “heartbroken” on Thursday after smugglers pushed migrants off boats heading for Yemen twice in two days.
At least six migrants died when smugglers pushed a total of 180 from a boat off the southern coast of Yemen on Thursday, the second such drowning in the same area in two days.
Secretary General Guterres is “heartbroken by this continuing tragedy,” according to a statement read by spokesman Stephane Dujarric in New York.
Guterres reiterated his message to the international community to prevent and resolve situations which generate mass movement and expose those already on the move to significant danger.
He also encouraged the creation of legal pathways for migration.
Twelve people are still missing after the drownings on Thursday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.
They were forced off the boat as it drifted near Shabwa province in the Gulf of Aden.
The incident comes some 24 hours after smugglers pushed 120 migrants off a boat near the coast of Shabwa, resulting in the drowning of about 50 migrants.
In both cases, most migrants were from Ethiopia and Somalia, the IOM said.
On Wednesday, the UN body said a smuggler “deliberately drowned” dozens of migrants after which IOM staff found the shallow graves of 29 people on a beach in Shabwa during a routine patrol.
They also provided medical care to 27 surviving migrants who had stayed on the beach.
The migrants on this route were heading to countries in the Gulf via war-torn Yemen. Most of them seek work in neighbouring states.
Around 55,000 migrants have left the Horn of Africa for Yemen since January 2017, more than 30,000 of whom were under the age of 18, according to estimates from the IOM.
The journey through the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden is particularly dangerous during the current windy season in the Indian Ocean.
Yemen hosts more than 255,000 Somali refugees, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, though many foreigners attempt to escape the conflict and the worsening situation in Yemen. — dpa

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