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Biden urged to change course on Yemen to ensure civilians can access humanitarian aid

UNITED STATES president-elect Joe Biden was urged to change course today to ensure that Yemeni civilians can receive life-saving aid after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated Ansar Allah a terrorist organisation.

Mr Pompeo made the last-gasp move just days before US President Donald Trump is due to leave office, insisting that Ansar Allah, the formal name for the Houthi movement, would be held accountable for “terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure and commercial shipping.”

The Houthis ousted Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in 2015 and despite a Saudi-led war for control of Yemen, still retain swathes of the country, including the capital Sanaa.

But the movement’s designation as a terrorist organisation is likely to see many rights organisations and charities deterred from carrying out transactions with the Houthi authorities, including bank transfers and the purchase of much-needed food and oil.

Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) director Mohamed Abdi warned of the “far reaching impact on the already dire humanitarian situation in Yemen.”

The country has been subjected to nearly six years of bombing by a Saudi-led coalition supported with weapons and military support supplied by Britain, France and the US.

The UN describes Yemen as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis; 80 per cent of its people are reliant on aid and the country is at risk of the worst global famine in a century.

Mr Pompeo insists the sanctions, which come into effect the day before Mr Biden’s inauguration, will not hamper aid agencies. But Mr Abdi denied this and said that without safeguards and broader exemptions, Yemen’s economy would be dealt a devastating blow.

“Getting food and medicine into Yemen — a country 80 per cent dependent on imports — will become even more difficult,” he said. “The US government must ensure that any sanctions do not block food, fuel and medicines from entering a country already in the middle of a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe.”

The NRC spokesman called on Mr Biden to ensure that Yemeni civilians are able to receive life-saving aid and to protect aid workers from being criminalised.

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