Three square meals a day, 24/7 electricity and a resident-to-medical staff ratio of less than 400:1 are hardly the facilities one associates with camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), yet conditions in one in northern Yemen are so good that aid workers worry that many of its residents will not want to go home.
Al-Mazraq II camp, in the northwestern province of Hajjah, is home to thousands of people displaced by fighting between Yemeni security forces and Houthi-led rebels.
Whereas other camps for those displaced by the conflict are dependent on funding raised by the UN and NGOs, al-Mazraq II benefits from the deep pockets of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Red Crescent Society acting on the instructions of UAE President Khalifa Bin Zayed, whose forebears came from Yemen.
“We received directions from [Khalifa] to offer distinctive services to IDPs and treat them as guests,” said Khalfan Saif al-Kendi, manager of the UAE Red Crescent office in Yemen.
“The camp is funded by the Emirates’ government for one year,” he added.
Ali Mohammed Nasher, 60, from Ghafir Uzla town in Dhahir District, Saada Governorate, and his family are among thousands of IDPs who were transferred from the overcrowded al-Mazraq I camp to this facility to reduce the burden on services in the older camp.
Living in this camp is even much better than living
at home where there is no electricity and other services
"We get rice with chicken or meat at noon every day… "We can drink cold water from a cool-keeping jerry. We have a fan in our tent," Nasher said. "It is better than in the old camp [camp I]… Living in this camp is even much better than living at home where there is no electricity and other services. At home, we go on foot for several kilometres to get water from the nearest source."
IDPs, aid workers and government officials often refer to it as the “five-star camp” due to the quality of services it offers, compared to other camps in the area.
As of 30 April, 796 families (about 7,000 individuals) lived there. Many IDPs who moved from al-Mazraq I or nearby scattered settlements to this camp said they were taken aback by the quality of services available.
Hamid al-Shamsi, the camp supervisor, told IRIN every family receives three fresh meals a day, plus school-feeding rations for their children attending classes in the camp’s school.
“Every tent is provided with a fan, and power generators supply residents with electricity around the clock,” he said. “Livestock are not allowed to enter the camp, to create a healthy environment for residents.”
He said the camp has a central kitchen, a kindergarten, a park for children to play and a clinic with 18 doctors and nurses, adding: "We have trained staff offering psychological support to affected cases."
According to al-Shamsi, the camp management applies strict registration criteria in an effort to stop bogus IDP families from getting in.
Claire Bourgeois, the UN Refugee Agency’s representative in Yemen, told IRIN that while those in al-Mazraq II enjoyed better conditions, services in other camps were more than adequate.
"I believe that IDPs in [al-Mazraq] camps 1, 2 and 3 have equal access to basic services: health, education and water. The main difference is food rations, which is a problem this month due to the food ration cut," she said.
"But we will never get a ‘uniform approach’… Several thousand IDPs are not in the camps and do not benefit from minimum standards," she said.
Photo: Suad Ali/IRIN
|Cooks at the camp's central restaurant
preparing lunch rations for IDPs
Is the camp too good to leave? Mohammed Audah, who works with the Al-Saleh Social Foundaton, thinks so.
"Vulnerable IDPs, who transited from Camp I to this camp, never think about returning home. They are stunned by the quality of services offered in this camp," he said.
Fewer than 200 of the camp’s original 796 families have returned to their areas of origin. Most of those who went back were families with good assets at home, like large farms or artesian wells that encouraged them to return, according to Audah.
He said IDPs who were casual labourers were less inclined to return home.
"Families leaving the camp for their homes are immediately replaced by new families from other camps and settlements. No tents remain empty for more than three days."
Marie Marullaz, an external relations officer with the UN Refugee Agency, said she did not believe people would stay in the camp because of the good conditions. “A number of IDPs have shown reluctance to move to the camp,” she told IRIN, citing lack of privacy and inability to bring livestock in.
Another aid official, who asked not to be named, said a reluctance to leave camps was a widespread phenomenon.
"Most of the IDP camps in a way create dependency and cause protracted displacement and one of the major reasons is that once the 'push' factor, like a conflict, is not there any more, many IDPs are reluctant to return as there are usually very few basic services in their places of origin. It is obvious that IDPs would not want to go back since there might be nothing to return to - no homes, no jobs, no services, etc."