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Yemen, located at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, is one of the poorest countries in the region. Around 13 million people – of a population of 24 million – are affected by the humanitarian crisis in the country. More than 400,000 people have been internally displaced. In addition, the country also has around 250,000 refugees, most of whom have fled from Somalia. Every year, at least 100,000 vulnerable migrants pass through Yemen. Following anti-government protests in the wake of the Arab spring, the country now finds itself in a process of political transition. Part of this process will involve a national dialogue, which will take place over the coming months and is intended to lead to both a new constitution and electoral system.
More than 30 states and several organisations, including the UN, the EU, the League of Arab States and the World Bank, are members of the “Friends of Yemen” group, which was set up to support the country during the transition process. Switzerland becomes a full member of the group today. It was an observer at the group’s prior meeting, which took place during the UN General Assembly in late September 2012. Attending the fifth meeting of the Friends of Yemen in London today, Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter declared: “Lasting reconciliation is only possible if steps are taken to heal old wounds, to address previous abuses and to hold those responsible to account”. Membership status will allow Switzerland to coordinate more effectively its primarily humanitarian aid activities with the international effort. In the area of support for the transition process, the Head of the FDFA also confirmed Switzerland’s willingness to share, among other things, its experience of federalism with the Yemeni government, should the latter require such support during the reconciliation process.
Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter also mentioned that Switzerland has provided around CHF 20 million in aid between 2012 and 2014 to support projects designed to alleviate the humanitarian crisis and to advance the political transition in Yemen. Switzerland has been involved in humanitarian and development efforts in Yemen for a number of years already. In February 2011, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) opened a programme office in the capital Sana’a to improve the speed and effectiveness of the aid it is providing. The focus of Switzerland’s commitment is on the many hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons, refugees and work migrants. Switzerland wants to contribute to efforts to improve the protection of vulnerable groups in their home communities, to ensure that first host countries comply with their international obligations to protect refugees and migrants, and to minimise or even prevent the irregular and often dangerous onward migration of refugees and migrants.