2022: The World This Year

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2022: The World This Year
Yemen, Syria, and Sudan: Continuing humanitarian crises

  Mohaimeen Khan

TWTW#196, 31 December 2022, Vol. 4, No. 45


What happened? 

During the first week of January, in Yemen, Operation “Southern Cyclone,” supported by the UAE was started by the Giants Brigades to drive Houthi rebels out of Shabwah province. The Giants achieved quick victories in Shabwah and advanced into the southern areas of Marib Governorate. As IRG forces started an offensive against Houthi forces in Hajjah governorate, the situation grew worse. Houthis were swift to undo IRG advances, but skirmishes persisted throughout March. Sanaa governorate experienced civilian casualties as a result of airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition that targeted Houthi installations. The Houthi rebels targeted oil terminals and ports of Hadramawt, Shabwah, and Ad Dabbah when the October truce expired, denying the government of its primary source of income from exports. The southern region of Yemen saw a rise in activities by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). There was a rise of violence in Ad Dali, Taizz, Lahij, Marij, Shabwah, Hodeidah governorate, as the Houthi forces conducted drone attacks against IRG.

On 20 January, in Syria, there was attempt by an IS militant to break out of prison that led to conflict which still continues between the Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD) and IS. It resulted in the rise of violence in al-Hakasah. Israel launched airstrikes against regime forces and militias that support Hezbollah and Iran in rural Damascus, Tartous, and Quneitra. In the last week of September, Russian forces conducted airstrikes against IS strongholds in Raqqa and Idleb. In the governorates of Deir ez Zor and Raqqa, IS militants attacked pro-regime forces. On 20 November, Operation “Claw-Sword” was launched by the Turkish Air Force against sites of Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian Army in Aleppo, Raqqa, and al-Hasakah. Violence against civilians increased significantly in the province of Dara. 

Since 20 January, in Sudan, West Darfur has been the subject of increased concerns of rising tension. In al-Genaina, armed Arab militias launched attacks on Massalit and other African ethnic groups that were internally displaced. A new wave of attacks in al-Genaina between April 4-8 resulted in the displacement of thousands of people. This also coincided with rise of paramilitary violence and on-going anti-government protests in Khartoum. Abyei and Darfur are the two provinces where political violence has increased followed by Blue Nile. Clashes broke out in February between Ngok Dinka and Twic Dinka, who have been fighting over a long-standing territorial issue. Intense conflict between Hausa and Berta ethnic groups broke out in several areas of Blue Nile in July. Sudanese and Ethiopian forces are engaged in combat over the contested al-Fashaga region. 

What is the background?

First, the Yemen civil war resulting in the humanitarian crisis. Yemen’s civil war broke out in 2014 after Houthi rebels seized control of the state’s capital. In addition to the current civil war, the US conducts continues counterterrorism operations in Yemen, focusing mostly on militants affiliated with Islamic State and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The world’s one of the worst humanitarian crises is occurring in Yemen. The ensuing combat is between the Houthi rebels, the Southern Transitional Council (STC), and the forces backed by internationally recognised government. A proxy war has replaced the seven-year-old civil war. The international coalition headed by Saudi Arabia, which includes the UAE, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Bahrain, and Kuwait is battling the Houthi rebels, who are supported by Iran. The situation has become complex due to the involvement of various militant groups, and separatists sponsored by the coalition and militant Islamic groups. 

Second, humanitarian crises caused by domestic, regional and international actors in Syria. The harsh government crackdown on a group of youngsters who were detained for anti-government graffiti in the southern town of Daraa in March 2011 is what led to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. The arrests provoked widespread protests in Syria that the government security forces ruthlessly put an end to. The government forces replicated the Daraa response to curb the protests in other parts of Syria, which prompted the regime opponents to use arms. Many of these committees, which were first formed to coordinate resistance to the regime, later assumed responsibilities for running the government and providing services. Rapid conflict escalation led the state into a civil war. The conflict has become more complex as jihadists supporting a Sunni theocracy overtook the opposition groups fighting for a democratic and pluralistic Syria, and regional powers have supported numerous local groups to further their geopolitical objectives on the front lines in Syria. Russia and Iran have been supporting pro-Assad forces, and Turkey has been a key supporter of the opposition. Israel has been focusing to counter the Iranian influence in Syria by conducting airstrikes. The US, although it abruptly withdrew part of its forces in 2019 in anticipation of Turkey, a NATO ally, invading northern Syria, is at the vanguard of a coalition conducting air strikes on the self-declared Islamic State. 

Third, multiple conflicts in Sudan. In the Darfur region, rebels launched an uprising in 2003 where they were protesting against the Sudanese government’s disrespect for the western area and its non-Arab people. The government responded by arming the Arab militias. By 2007, the violence escalated which resulted in humanitarian crisis in Sudan. Since Omar al-Bashir was ousted from power in April 2019, Sudan has been experiencing a political crisis. It resulted in widespread violent protests throughout the state. There are also ethnic conflicts in the region. Sudan is located in a volatile region, and is engaged in territorial dispute with Ethiopia over the al-Fashaga region.  

Fourth, protracted nature of conflicts in Yemen, Syria, and Sudan. The conflicts in the three countries are protracted, and wave of demonstrations continue. Localised ceasefires have yet to result in a more comprehensive peace process. Increasingly violent demonstrations motivated by rage over the dire economic conditions add to the unrest. The international and regional state actors are providing military and financial assistance to the groups engaged in combat. The regional competition has exacerbated the ongoing crisis. 

Fifth, intensity of the crises. The on-going conflicts and rise in violence in these countries have resulted in the escalation of humanitarian crisis. Yemen is experiencing an unparalleled amount of starvation at present. In Yemen, Syria, and Sudan, there are 23.4 million, 13.4 million and 14.3 million people respectively in need of humanitarian assistance. Over 17.4 million Yeminis and 11.7 million Sudanese lack access to food. It has also given rise to cholera outbreaks, measles, diphtheria, dengue fever, medicine and food shortages. There have been cases of missing women, gender-based violence, and early forced marriages. There is a greater chance of widespread famine. There has been an increase in child labour and the groups engaged in combat are recruiting children. 

Sixth, lack of international attention. The media tends to focus on the more significant regional conflicts as it is easier to predict the impact on the West in terms of refugees, terrorist attacks, and geopolitical risks. Due to the prolonged nature of war, the international attention to Syria and the conflict in Darfur diminished over the years. As the political will and interest of state varies, the war narratives can be less appealing to the global audience. There is also less coverage by major powers who are involved in the conflict as they fear domestic scrutiny. 

About the author

Mohaimeen Khan is a postgraduate scholar at Manipal Academy of Higher Education.

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