Twenty-two aid organisations working in Yemen say they’re extremely concerned about the humanitarian consequences of the U.S designation of Ansar Allah (the Houthi movement) as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation and Specially Designated Global Terrorists.
The organisations say the designation comes at a time when famine is a very real threat to a country devastated by six years of conflict, and it must be revoked immediately.
Any disruption to lifesaving aid operations and commercial imports of food, fuel, medicine and other essential goods will put millions of lives at risk, they say.
The signatories to the letter include Islamic Relief, Oxfam and Save the Children.
Designating the Houthi movement as a terrorist organisation was one of the last moves of the trump administration. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. wanted to “deter further malign activity by the Iranian regime” that backs the Houthis.
The U.S says it has issued exemption licences for humanitarian work, but the aid organisations say the designation will cause delays and uncertainty in their ability to deliver assistance making it even more difficult to operate in Yemen, particularly in areas controlled by the Ansar Allah which are home to the majority of people in need.
Their statement said: “We have grave concerns that the licenses do not cover enough of the commercial sector. This will cause disruptions as the licences and associated guidance do not provide sufficient guarantees to international banks, shipping companies and suppliers that still face the risk of falling foul of US laws.
“As a result, many in the commercial sector will likely feel the risk is too high to continue working in Yemen. Yemeni import companies, which bring in 80 to 90 per cent of the country’s food, fuel and medicines, are already warning that they may have to shut down business.
“Crucially, this will drive up prices of food, fuel and other basic goods, bringing these essential items even further out of people’s reach in a country where 16 million people are close to starvation…
“This is why today we make an unprecedented and united call for the Biden administration to immediately revoke the designation. This echoes the urgent calls made by UN leaders during the 14 January United Nations Security Council briefing on Yemen. Revocation is the only effective way to protect Yemeni civilians from the potentially catastrophic humanitarian impact the designation will cause.
“Finally, the designation of Ansar Allah as a terrorist organisation will likely hurt UN-led efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, as Martin Griffiths warned in his Security Council briefing. By supporting the UN-led peace process – the only sustainable solution to the crisis in Yemen – the new Biden administration still has the chance to reverse the course of the designation and instead mobilise the warring parties and international community to end the conflict and suffering.”
The Zaydi Muslim Houthi movement controls wide swaths of territory in Yemen, including regions affected by famine.
Since 2015, a U.S.-backed Arab military coalition backing Yemen’s ousted government has fought the Houthi rebels in a war which began in 2014 and is widely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and its regional rival Iran.
The UN ranks Yemen as the world’s worst current humanitarian crisis, with warfare claiming more than 112,000 lives.
At his confirmation hearing, Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged to look into the issue “immediately” and on Friday, the new US administration said the decision was under review.
Below is a full list of the aid agencies which signed the letter:
Action contre la Faim
Danish Refugee Council
Handicap International – Humanity & Inclusion
International Medical Corps
International Rescue Committee
Médecins du monde
Norwegian Refugee Council
Première Urgence – Aide Médicale Internationale
Save the Children
Search for Common Ground