A less disastrous policy on the war in Yemen (2016)

From: Constant: 8 x la guerre (1951)

Since 2015 an armed conflict takes place in Yemen. One of the warring parties is supported by an international coalition headed by Saudi Arabia, which is provided with arms by the US and European states. Violations of international humanitarian law (including bombing hospitals) have become routine. Out of a 24 million population, 14 million people are now reliant on food aid, and 3 million people are internally displaced. Over 180.000 people have fled the country. The number of refugees that has left the country is low because Yemen is surrounded by other conflict zones (Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan) and by Saudi Arabia, which blocks the escape routes in the desert by military means. Just like with other refugee situations, the UN reports that only half of the funds needed for supporting displaced persons and refugees is raised by the international community.

There are hardly Yemenite refugees who succeed in reaching Europe – over the past five years 3.845 people from Yemen applied for asylum in the entire European Union, 150 of which in the Netherlands. This is a very limited group of people. When the armed conflict in Yemen broke out in 2015, the Dutch state secretary of justice decided to suspend decision making in Yemenite asylum cases, by declaring a so-called moratorium. European and Dutch law allows for this so as to enable the authorities to gather information and formulate policy in situations which are volatile and changing – as was the case in Yemen in 2015.

The Dutch moratorium for Yemenite asylum cases expired in August 2016. According to law, the authorities should now resume taking decisions in Yemenite asylum cases. However, in October the state secretary for justice reported to parliament that he is working on new policy. The idea of the moratorium is that the authorities will use the period of the moratorium to formulate policy. Instead, the moratorium has been used to wait with making new policy until after it has expired.

If the state secretary of justice would have taken decisions in Yemenite asylum cases, he would have granted asylum. The situation in Yemen leaves no other options. During a moratorium, asylum seekers have to remain in asylum reception centres. These are fit for sheltering people for a few months. Not for the 18 to 24 months that Yemenite asylum seekers have been forced to remain there, while the inaction of the Dutch authorities forced them to do nothing but wait.

This makes Yemen a miniature of failing European policies:
1. By supporting and arming Saudi Arabia, the conflict is made worse;
2. The resulting humanitarian emergency is addressed only partly by insufficient funding;
3. And even the few refugees who succeeded in reaching Europe are left in a dead-end situation for an indefinite period.

Because this is a relatively small problem, Yemen could serve as a try-out for a less disastrous policy on three fronts. The Dutch authorities themselves can grant asylum to Yemenite refugees, for the sound reason that they qualify for it. Together with other European countries, the funds could be collected for supporting internally displaced persons and refugees in the region. And by ending arms supplies to the warring parties Europe could stop making the war worse than it already is.

Dutch version published in Trouw, 21 November 2016