ICRC oversees largest detainee exchange in over 70 years

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) began its largest detainee exchange operation in Yemen since the Korean War more than 60 years ago. A thousand prisoners began to be released on Thursday after a recent agreement in Glion (VD).

‘We are honored to play a neutral role that brings families together again,’ said ICRC President Peter Maurer. Several flights have already left Sanaa, the Yemeni capital controlled by the Houthi rebels, the government-controlled city of Seyoun (southeast) and the Saudi city of Abha, according to rebel officials quoted by AFP.

About twenty soldiers were notably released by the Houthis. These soldiers arrived at an air base in Riyadh, said Saudi state television Al-Ekhbariya, citing the military coalition which intervenes in Yemen in support of the government in exile.

The coalition thanked the ICRC for facilitating their release and insisting on the ‘humanitarian aspect’ of the prisoners’ case. The organization discussed with each of the detainees to make sure that they wished to return home and gave them medical examinations. She also gave them clothes, hygiene materials and money.

On planes and at airports, it distributes personal protective equipment and respects physical distancing to prevent the spread of Covid, as the pandemic situation in Yemen is of great concern to the UN. Medical staff and volunteers from the Yemeni Red Crescent Society and the Saudi Arabian Red Crescent Society are facilitating the process.

Hailed by Griffiths

For his part, the UN envoy on Yemen Martin Griffiths welcomed the start of the exchange of detainees. This “shows once again that peaceful dialogue can work,” he said. He called for an upcoming UN-led meeting to discuss the release of all detainees.

Two years ago, the government and the rebels agreed to release 15,000 prisoners. Only a few had been released before an agreement reached in Glion in late September following talks facilitated by the UN and the ICRC on more than 1080 detainees.

In some six years, the conflict in Yemen has claimed tens of thousands of lives, mostly civilians, and caused the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, a situation which also deteriorated with the coronavirus. In total, around 25 million people need help, according to the UN.


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