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UK plans to designate Yemen's Houthis as terrorists risk disaster warns aid agencies

Houthi loyalists check weapons on military trucks during a tribal gathering on 1 August 2019 in Sana'a, Yemen. [Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images]
Houthis check weapons on military trucks during a tribal gathering on 1 August 2019 in Sana'a, Yemen [Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images]

The British government's plans to designate Yemen's Houthi movement as a terrorist group risk worsening the humanitarian crisis in the country, leading aid agencies have warned in a letter to cabinet ministers.

According to a report yesterday by The Guardian, 11 British aid agencies, including Save the Children, Care, the International Rescue Committee and Islamic Relief sent the letter upon being informed that Home Secretary Priti Patel was pushing for the designation under the Terrorism Act as part of a review of British policy in Yemen.

There are fears that the move, described as a "blunt tool" could hamper aid efforts in the country, already on the brink of famine, as international banks and companies that import food, medicines and fuel could be impacted by terrorism laws, especially as the Houthi-led, de-facto government based in Sanaa control the most densely populated areas in the north.

"The likely 'chilling effect' on banks and other commercial actors could prove catastrophic for the millions of Yemenis already at risk from hunger, conflict and disease," the letter stated.

"Grain importers and banks told humanitarian agencies they are unsure if they will be able to continue supplying Yemen if the UK proceeds with proscription of Ansar Allah," the aid agencies explained, referring to the formal name of the Houthi group.

READ: Over 25.5M Yemenis live under poverty line: UN migration agency

"[If] banks were to refuse transfers because of UK proscription, this would likely have a serious impact on remittances, which are a lifeline for 500,000 Yemeni families. Up to one in 10 Yemenis rely on remittances to meet their essential needs. They are the biggest source of foreign exchange into the country, making up 20% of the country's GDP. More than 100,000 Yemenis living in the UK would no longer be able to support their loved ones."

However, the plans have received the support of some of the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE who have been hit by cross-border attacks by the Houthis. Both are joint-leaders of the Arab coalition which militarily intervened in the country in 2015 at the request of the internationally-recognised Yemeni government following the fall of Sanaa to the Houthi forces and their military allies the year before.

Last year the Houthis were listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation towards the end of former US President Donald Trump's administration, which was condemned by human rights groups at the time who warned it could further exacerbate the humanitarian crisis. However, President Joe Biden formally delisted the movement amid announcements that the US would end its support for the Saudi-led war. Earlier this year, Biden said he would consider relisting the Houthis as a terrorist group and it has become a source of tensions between Washington and its Gulf allies, Saudi and the UAE.

READ: Yemen government say it supports UN-sponsored ceasefire for Ramadan

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