Yacoub El-Hillo serves as Middle East and North Africa Director for the United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR. This past Sunday, El-Hillo headed a press conference in Sana’a in which he outlined key refugee-related issues in Yemen. Some of the numbers El-Hillo mentioned were staggering: there are currently over 220,000 registered refugees in Yemen, and 470,000 IDPs (internally displaced persons). At the same time, he praised Yemen as being a “humanitarian superpower” for its generosity, past and present, in receiving refugees with no place else to turn.
National Yemen: In eight years’ time, in 2020, what do you see as the best possible situation concerning refugees in Yemen? What is the worst?
Yacoub El-Hillo: The best is for the majority to actually have been able to return home in safety, and for a small minority to have opted to remain because they have lived here all their lives; they were born here, they grew up here, they went to school here, they may even have married here. For those to be allowed to stay and integrate.
The worst-case scenario is that we will have twice the number of refugees we have today in Yemen in eight years. If the world does not really do something comprehensive to address and contain the situation in the Horn of Africa, but in particular in Somalia, then we can only prepare ourselves as a global community to see more people leave in large numbers.