ICRC News release
17 April 2023
Yemen & Saudi Arabia: Families reunited as more than 970 conflict-related detainees released in two operations over four days
Geneva (ICRC) – Over the last four days, 973 former detainees held in relation to the conflict in Yemen were repatriated to Yemen and Saudi Arabia by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), reuniting hundreds of families just in time for Eid.
From 14 to 16 April, 15 ICRC flights carried released 869 detainees to six cities: Abha and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, and Aden, Marib, Mokha and Sanaa in Yemen. In addition, on 17 April, the ICRC, upon request from the Saudi-led Coalition, facilitated a separate unilateral release of 104 detainees from Saudi Arabia to Yemen.
“I am deeply moved and proud that our teams could reunite so many detainees with their families over the last four days and we stand ready to do so for those who are yet to be released,” said Mirjana Spoljaric, the president of the ICRC. “These operations underscore the real-life impact of ICRC’s neutrality and its ability to work with all sides – to bring people home and end years of separation.”
The ICRC played a crucial role as a neutral intermediary, organizing and overseeing the transportation of detainees following talks concluded in Switzerland last month under the auspices of the Supervisory Committee on the Implementation of the Detainees’ Exchange Agreement. The committee, which included representatives from the parties involved in the conflict, was co-chaired by the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen (OSESGY) and the ICRC.
“These release operations reunited hundreds of families just in time for Eid celebrations. They were enabled by powerful acts of goodwill that will hopefully also bring us closer to seeing an end to the conflict and to years of human suffering,” said Daphnee Maret, ICRC’s head of delegation in Yemen. “We also appreciate the important role the UN has played in bringing the parties together, which enabled these release operations to happen.”
Before repatriation, the ICRC conducted private interviews with the detainees to verify their identities and confirm their informed consent to be released. The detainees’ health was evaluated by ICRC medical teams to ensure they were fit for travel. They were also given clothing and a one-off cash allowance.
ICRC teams accompanied detainees on the day of repatriation to oversee the transfer and provide medical assistance as needed. Yemen Red Crescent Society (YRCS) and Saudi Red Crescent Authority (SRCA) medical staff and volunteers were also present at the six airports, helping with boarding and disembarking detainees with disabilities, and providing first aid and ambulance services.
“We have all seen how this important release operation has generated a renewed sense of hope and brought solace to the hearts of many who have been suffering,” said Mamadou Sow, the head of the ICRC’s regional delegation for the GCC countries. “May the hope and goodwill we have seen over the last four days translate into the lasting peace that people so deeply need and deserve.”
Notes to Editors:
This is the second-largest detainee release operation that the ICRC has participated in during the Yemen conflict. In a similar operation in October 2020, the ICRC transported more than 1,000 detainees. The ICRC also facilitated the repatriation of 117 detainees unilaterally released from Saudi Arabia to Yemen in May 2022 and several other occasions between November 2019 and September 2020.
The ICRC has been present in Yemen for 61 years and across countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, including seven years in Saudi Arabia, working to promote respect for international humanitarian law in times of conflict and providing humanitarian assistance to communities in need.