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People participate in a Yemeni protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban in New York City, US, Feb. 2, 2017.  © REUTERS

(Washington, DC) – The United States government should ensure that the approximately 1,250 Yemenis currently living in the US are not deported to their war-torn country, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should extend and redesignate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Yemen, which expires on March 3, 2020.

The US has contributed to the dire situation in Yemen by continuing to supply weapons to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition responsible for numerous violations of the laws of war in Yemen.

“Given the US role in the Yemen conflict, it would be particularly cruel not to extend TPS for Yemenis in the US,” said Andrea Prasow, acting Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “Washington needs to make clear that it won’t send people back to a country wracked by war and famine.”

By redesignating TPS instead of merely extending it, the US government would expand eligibility for Yemenis who arrived after the current January 4, 2017 cutoff date. This is crucial to ensure that all Yemenis eligible for temporary refuge in the US are protected from deportation.

Since the current conflict began in March 2015, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been leading a military air and ground campaign against the Houthis, an armed group that controls much of northern Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition, which has received weaponry, intelligence, and logistical assistance from the US, has committed scores of indiscriminate airstrikes that have killed and wounded thousands of civilians. According to the Yemen Data Project, more than 17,500 civilians have been killed and injured in Saudi-led coalition airstrikes since 2015.

Both the coalition and the Houthis have been responsible for unlawful attacks, forced disappearances, and obstructing delivery of food and medical assistance. Parties to the conflict have harassed, threatened, and attacked Yemeni activists and journalists.

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) needs to determine by January 3 whether it will extend, redesignate, or terminate TPS for Yemeni nationals and stateless habitual residents of Yemen.

The department last redesignated TPS for Yemen in January 2017. That year, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs declared Yemen to be the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, partly as a result of the armed conflict. The country’s humanitarian situation remains dire today, with deteriorating conditions for millions of civilians at risk from the fighting and famine.

In a travel advisory issued in April, the US State Department stated that “no part of Yemen is immune to violence,” and in November, warned, “Do not travel to Yemen due to terrorism, civil unrest, health risks, kidnapping, armed conflict, and landmines.”

The UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, in its September report to the UN Security Council, concluded that “there is no safe place to hide from the fighting” in Yemen and that “parties to the conflict in Yemen are responsible for an array of human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law. Some of these violations are likely to amount to war crimes.”

Human Rights Watch has documented numerous serious laws-of-war violations by all sides in Yemen. Parties to the conflict have failed to seriously investigate alleged war crimes and other unlawful attacks. While the Saudi-led coalition created the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) to assess “claims and accidents” during coalition military operations, a Human Rights Watch investigation into the JIAT found that it has failed to credibly investigate allegedly unlawful airstrikes.

“The US has contributed to laws-of-war violations in Yemen by continuing to supply bombs and other weapons to abusive Saudi-led coalition forces,” Prasow said. “It shouldn’t add to its disgraceful record by forcibly returning Yemenis to that conflict.”

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