Yemen’s Forgotten War: How Europe Can Lay the Foundations for Peace

Press release

Yemen’s forgotten war approaching point of no-return

The ‘forgotten war’ of Yemen is now matching the headline-grabbing conflict in Syria in its severity, and can no longer be ignored by European governments, states a new report from the European Council on Foreign Relations.

The conflict has brought about the Middle East’s most severe humanitarian crisis, with 86 percent of the population in need of humanitarian assistance, in a situation described as ‘borderline famine.’ A Saudi-led air and sea blockade has effectively cut off desperately needed imports in a country that imports 90 percent of its food.

To this backdrop the deepening collapse of state institutions, widening fragmentation of power and rise of armed militias (including al-Qaeda and Islamic State, the latter of which claimed responsibility Sunday for a bombing which killed 49 people in Aden) is rapidly pushing Yemen towards absolute collapse. The country is approaching a point of no return, which could in turn directly heighten the challenges facing Europe from the region.

The country now faces a ‘lost generation’ of children growing up uneducated, malnourished and with few job prospects beyond fighting for militias, providing fertile soil for extremist recruitment. And with over 3 million people already internally displaced, the conflict could soon spur a new wave of refugees into Europe.

As such, Europe has both a moral and strategic obligation to step up its approach towards the conflict, looking to strengthen the stalled political process and significantly augment urgently needed humanitarian assistance. Its current approach has for too long been defined either by acquiescence towards the belligerent actors or apparent indifference. But with a Trump presidency likely to scale back its political engagement in the region, European states ― with the exception of the United Kingdom, which seen by too many as a direct belligerent in the conflict due to its support for the Saudi coalition ― must now step up their role in a bid to prevent the country from becoming a total failed state.

To this end, Europe should focus efforts on a wider multi-track peace process that looks to broaden local buy-in to the UN-led peace process, to include both Houthi and anti-Houthi forces, as well as wider components of the Southern Movement. The ECFR paper also calls on European states to pressure the warring parties to end the air and sea embargo that is proving so disastrous to the humanitarian situation on the ground. Given its close relationship with Riyadh this may be a role that the UK government in particular could play.

Author Adam Baron said, “Yemen has received a fraction of the international attention accorded to Syria. But in many ways what’s happening is now worse than in Syria, in terms of both the humanitarian situation and the vacuum of state control that is giving space to extremist groups. The country is rapidly reaching a point of total anarchy and state failure, which will make it impossible for Europe to ignore, not least because of the possible wave of Yemeni refugees that could seek shelter on European shores. Indifference has for too long characterised the wider European response to this horrific crisis but moral and strategic imperatives should spur action now, before it’s too late.”

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