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Red Cross Pulls 71 Workers Out Of Yemen After Series Of Incidents And Threats


The U.N. calls Yemen the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. And here's another sign of just how bad the civil war there has become. Yesterday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it pulled out 71 of its staff members from the country after a series of incidents and threats. The Red Cross has worked in Yemen for more than 50 years. Mirella Hodeib is one of the staff members who has left the country, and she's now in Djibouti. Welcome to the program.


SHAPIRO: Why were you and your team evacuated?

HODEIB: Well, because after the shooting and killing of our colleague, Hanna Lahoud, on April 21, we do not have the luxury of taking any additional risk. At this stage, the security of our teams remain our primary concern.

SHAPIRO: The statement from your organization says people are trying to turn the Red Cross into a pawn in this conflict. What do you mean by that?

HODEIB: We are being instrumentalized. Our staff are being intimidated, cornered, blocked, threatened and, as we've seen on April 21, targeted and killed. There is a lot of impactment against humanitarian organizations and humanitarian workers in Yemen who, for the majority, try to support, assist and protect the most vulnerable in Yemen. And there are many. This is unacceptable

SHAPIRO: I want to remind listeners that this conflict is being fought by Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran, and fighters from a Saudi-led coalition backed by the United States. I know the ICRC does not take sides in a conflict. But when you say your workers are being instrumentalized and turned into pawns, is this happening from both directions, or is one side doing this and not the other?

HODEIB: It's happening across the board. And we have staff who have been killed across the country.

SHAPIRO: Even though more than 70 people have been evacuated, the ICRC still has hundreds of staff in Yemen. Are you worried for their safety?

HODEIB: Of course I am. You should have seen while I was leaving our offices yesterday. The emotion was very high. I saw tears in the eyes of colleagues that are usually very composed, very reserved. So we do worry about this.

SHAPIRO: I'm just thinking, the ICRC works all over the world in the most dangerous places with the worst humanitarian crises. For you to describe this evacuation from Yemen, where ordinarily unemotional people are shedding tears, speaks to the intensity of the situation there even compared to other war zones where the ICRC works every day.

HODEIB: It is a difficult situation for everyone involved because the needs are massive everywhere in Yemen. But at the same time, at this stage safeguarding the security of our team is a priority. And it's unfortunate to say that at this stage, instead of focusing efforts to respond to the huge and growing humanitarian needs, the ICRC is busy ensuring the safety of our own staff members.

SHAPIRO: Do you expect that you'll be able to return to Yemen?

HODEIB: We really hope so. We really hope so, pending those guarantees that we are calling for, solid, credible, durable from all sides. Until then, the ICRC will continue to have a highly reduced presence of staff in Yemen.

SHAPIRO: Mirella Hodeib, thank you for speaking with us today.

HODEIB: Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: She's with the International Committee of the Red Cross in Yemen and has been evacuated to Djibouti.

(SOUNDBITE OF OMAR TEKBILEK'S "BEYOND THE SKY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.