Delegation of the European Union
to the United Nations - New York

Yemen: Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the EP debate on the humanitarian and political situation

Brussels, 09/02/2021 - 18:12, UNIQUE ID: 210209_24
HR/VP speeches

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Thank you Ms President, dear Members of the European Parliament,

Yes, the humanitarian and political situation in Yemen deserves more attention. Much more than the one we pay to it. The war has been raging for almost 6 years, with a devastating impact: 24 million people – which means 80% of the Yemeni population – are in need of humanitarian assistance and more than 4 million are displaced.

Beyond this terrible humanitarian crisis, the war in Yemen has become a source of instability in the whole region. We need to take decisive action to avert a mass famine. The situation can still deteriorate, if restrictions to imports of basic commodities and humanitarian access persist. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the humanitarian situation in Yemen. Additionally, the SAFER oil tanker stranded in the Red Sea is a ticking time bomb that could cause an environmental disaster.

Since the start of the conflict six years ago, the European Union has not only made diplomatic efforts but also provided nearly €1 billion to Yemen in response to the crisis, through humanitarian and development assistance.

You can be sure that we will keep working to support the only way out of this crisis, which is a political settlement for peace and stability. To this end, we fully back the efforts of the United Nations Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, in support of a ceasefire and a political solution.

Current prospects for a rapid breakthrough in Yemen are certainly and unhappily slim. The latest attacks by Ansar Allah show how challenging the situation remains. But, at the same time, we feel a growing sense of urgency in the international community to find a way out.

The latest announcements from the Biden Administration – ending support for Saudi-led offensive operations and the appointment of a special Yemen Envoy – show a genuine interest from our partners to address the crisis. We also welcome the announced revocation of the designation of Ansar Allah as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation. This designation could have catastrophic consequences in the context of Yemen, as the country is highly dependent on commercial food imports. It has to be very clear that to nominate [an organisation] as terrorist organisation can create a blockage on trade. Because nobody will dare to face US sanctions. This is one example that has to be criticised about some decisions of the outgoing Trump administration.

We strongly condemned the 30 December attack on the new government. The unprecedented mission of eight European Ambassadors to Aden demonstrates our strong diplomatic support.

We are ready to push for a concerted action to unlock the stalled process and nudge the parties to implement a permanent ceasefire and begin political talks. I am confident that progress towards peace in Yemen will also help de-escalate the tense situation in the wider Gulf region.

I will personally continue my engagement on all these issues, along with Commissioner for Crisis Management, my colleague Janez Lenarčič, and other partners.

I look forward to working with you on this critical file. Six years of war, one of the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world – has to stop. And we, the European Union, have an important role to play in it.

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Closing remarks

Thank you Ms President, Dear Members,

I agree with all of you, but the only solution is to look for an inclusive political agreement. The [end to the] conflict in Yemen will come only from an agreement from the parties and the big powers who are behind them. That is why we should try to continue promoting dialogue and nudge all sides to support United Nations-led peace-making efforts.

We have to continue leading the humanitarian response, including the unimpeded humanitarian access. We are trying to use any opportunity that we can in order to increase other donors’ engagement, as the multilateral humanitarian response is completely underfunded.

I can assure you that we are doing our utmost. We have limited resources but we are devoting all of them, and we are using our influence with Saudi Arabia and with Iran. And now together with the Biden administration I think that we can put more pressure to stop this war by proxies. Because Yemen is a war by proxies, with Saudi Arabia and Iran and the other actors in the region. And yes it is as awful as you can show in pictures and any kind of material that we already know. The figures are really terrible. I was talking yesterday with my friend [David] Miliband, the head of the International Rescue Committee, about this catastrophic war and the humanitarian consequences.

We, as European Union, we have a role to play. It is a modest one because the only solution is to stop the flow of arms to both parties and to put strong political pressure on the countries that are supporting this war, feeding it with arms and resources.

The last decision of the administration Trump, declaring the Houthi rebels a terrorist organisation, for example. I am sorry, someone will say that I am criticising a decision by the US. Yes, I am criticising this decision taken by the Trump administration at the last minute, because it was going to create a lot of problems for the supplies of resources and food to the people in high need. And happily this decision has been reconsidered by the new administration.

More political engagement, more financial resources and more pressure on the actors: this is in practical terms what we can do and we are trying to do in the limits of our capacities.

Thank you.

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