Yemen's UAE-backed southern secessionists are expelling northern refugees as they move to seize Aden

Yemen's UAE-backed southern secessionists are expelling northern refugees as they move to seize Aden
In-depth: UAE-backed separatists in southern Yemen have been deporting northern Yemeni refugees back to war-ravaged northern provinces, as they push a violent secessionist agenda
5 min read
12 August, 2019
The situation between northern and southern Yemenis has escalated [Getty]
UAE-backed separatists in southern Yemen have been deporting northern Yemeni refugees back to war-ravaged northern provinces, as they push a violent secessionist agenda that last week opened a dramatic rift within the Saudi-Emirati led coalition inteverning in Yemen.

The Security Belt militia, an elite forces group affiliated to the UAE-backed secessionist Southern Transitional Council, has been carrying out expulsions of northern Yemenis, deporting in May alone 800 refugees fleeing the fighting in the north according to sources on the ground and monitors.

Many of these northern refugees are being accused with little proof of being 'fifth columnists' allied either with Houthi rebels or al-Islah – the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood that the UAE demonises despite its collaboration with the Arab coalition.

Since the Houthi rebel 2014 takeover of the capital Sanaa, the coalition has claimed the goal of its subsequent intervention in 2015 and installation of a temporary capital in the southern city of Aden is to maintain Yemen’s territorial integrity and restore the internationally recognised government to power.

But as the war dragged on, the various Yemeni forces enlisted by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, from Saudi-sponsored President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) have splintered into several disparate camps pursuing different and often contradictory goals.

A new phase

Last week, the UAE-backed STC deputy leader Hani bin Breik marched on the Maasheeq Palace in the southern coastal city and called on supporters to overthrow Hadi’s government in Aden. His forces have since seized control of largt parts of the temporary Yemeni capital.

This came a day after two fighters from the UAE-backed Southern Security Belt were killed during clashes with pro-Hadi government forces at the dismay of his Saudi and Emirati allies who fear an escalation against Hadi.

The breakout in violence between factions that are supposed to be part of the same coalition has brought street-to-street fighting to Aden, weeks after the UAE said it would withdraw the bulk of its forces from Yemen, bringing the conflict into a new phase of confusion and devastation that civilians will be the biggest victim of.

Read more:
Yemen in Focus: War takes a new turn as Saudi, UAE allies pursue disparate agendas

If the secessionists gain the upper hand, the deportation of northeners is likely to be ramped up as the STC and its surrogates push to make permanent the north-south cleavage revived by the takeover of Sanaa by the Houthis and their late ally President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a northerner himself.

With the growing number of expulsions of northern Yemenis, the Security Belt has claimed those being expelled either have no legal identification, or are infiltrating southern territory with a political agenda.

Within the southern Yemeni political class, there is a consensus that ordinary northern Yemenis can even be a threat.

"We do believe among those migrating south there are some planted by certain political groups", Mohamed Alsahimi, deputy head of the STC’s UK office told The New Arab.

"Those deported have come with no ID and are a threat to our security," he added.

But there are no official borders between the northern and southern parts of the country and in theory, all Yemenis have the right to unrestricted freedom of movement.

Local human rights groups have documented several human rights abuses against the internally displaced northern Yemenis.

Rights Radar, a Yemeni rights group, say also they documented cases of attacks on northern Yemenis by the Southern Security Belt.

"Eyewitnesses told Rights Radar that armed groups belonging to the forces of (the Security Belt), which are supported by the UAE, committed mass attacks against the northern workers and civilians in Mansoura district" over the past months, the group said.

"They also said that the militants broke into the workplaces such as restaurants, shops, cafeterias, and production workshops. They also expelled, beat and insulted the northern workers with words of profanity on a regional basis."

The Security Belt also "broke into many restaurants and shops and destroyed it. The armed group arbitrarily arrested tens of northern civilians, including many IDPs, put them in goods trucks and expelled them outside the governorates of Aden and Lahj", Rights Radar added.

Whilst such atrocities are common across Aden and Lahj, Rights Radar said the violence against northerners are especially prevalent in the Adeni districts of Mansoura, Sheikh Othman and Crater.

Other local activists have debunked claims that the IDPs coming from the northern parts of Yemen have no identity documents, with showing evidence of some of those expelled with their documents – branding the expulsions as indiscriminate and racist. 

Hadi's fault

The STC is an umbrella organisation that seeks to unite smaller southern secessionist movements into one. It was formed in May 2017 after the then-governor of Aden Aidarus al-Zoubadi was fired by the Yemeni presidency for being loyal to the southern movement as opposed to the central Yemeni government.

In 2018, the council briefly took over the Yemeni government’s headquarters in Aden to independently govern southern Yemen, exasperating friction between southern leaders and the Hadi government.

After the Houthis' defeat and withdrawal in Aden in July 2015, existing secessionist sentiments amplified within southern Yemen.

Northerners then started to migrate to southern provinces of Yemen to escape the bombing by the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi violence in the north. But their temporary refuge in the southern provinces may be about to end.

The STC claims however that the mass expulsions are ultimately the fault of the Hadi government.

"They are supposed to be the government, they are supposed to deal with displaced people in an institutional manner rather than leaving the matter to the hands of southern institutions they refuse to recognise", Alsahimi said.

"The Hadi goveernment have said they want to be in control of South Yemen but they cannot even organise proper identification for the ones escaping war in the north".