Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, whose collapsed health system is unable to cope with COVID-19, has been devastated by civil war, with no end in sight. But contrary to the wars in Syria and Libya, no one seems to care.
The conflict has its roots in the failure of a political transition supposed to bring stability to Yemen following an Arab Spring uprising that forced its longtime authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to hand over power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, in 2011.
But since the Houthi rebels, a Zaidi Shia Muslim minority movement known as Ansar Allah supposedly supported by Iran, took advantage of Hadi’s weakness in office in late 2014, dissolved the country’s parliament, drove Hadi out and escalated violence against the country’s internationally recognised government and the civilian population.
The conflict has been widely seen as an extension of the Iran–Saudi Arabia proxy conflict and a means to combat Iranian influence in the region.
Even before war broke out, Yemen was a poor country, prone to external influence. Nearly six years after fighting broke out, it has literally been bombed back to the Middle Ages.
As COVID-19 and violence peak and humanitarian aid programs collapse due to a lack of funding, it has become the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world, according to the UN and the International Red Cross.
But because only a few refugees come to Europe from there, the drama has been hardly noticed.
In March, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a global truce in the world’s conflict zones in order to protect vulnerable civilians from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Experts and diplomats predicted the virus would wreak havoc in conflict countries, which are more likely to be poor and have fragile health care systems.
In his ceasefire update, the UN chief specifically flagged four conflicts – Syria, Libya, Yemen and Afghanistan – where there is a struggle to make an intense diplomatic push successful.
Despite expressed support for a ceasefire by the government, Ansar Allah and other parties, the conflict has spiked, while in Syria, the Idlib ceasefire negotiated by Turkey and the Russian Federation is holding.
The war in Syria has killed more than 380,000 people since it started in 2011 and displaced nearly half of the country’s population.
Syria has become the world’s synonym for conflict and in June, international donors pledged $7.7 billion in aid to face the ongoing humanitarian crisis at a Syria aid summit co-hosted by the EU and the UN.
There is no shortage of interest in conflicts where there are economic spoils to harvest at the end.
Take Libya, for example, whose civil war has been raging for over a year, with international mediation efforts so far falling short, though not because of lack of attention from many European countries anxious to secure oil and gas contracts with the victor.
That, perhaps, is the logic of realpolitik.
But France, Greece, Italy and others should not pretend that, unlike Turkey, their stance on Libya is motivated by anything nobler than naked self-interest.
In the meantime, another crisis is looming in the eastern Mediterranean.
But because Lebanon remains the country hosting the largest number of refugees per capita, Europe may well step in, if the worst comes to worst.
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Views are the author’s