Warring sides in Yemen have increasingly used international aid workers as a "pawn" in the country's three-year civil war, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday after removing 71 employees from the country amid security concerns.
The aid group warned the staff relocations from Yemen to Djibouti would cripple its surgical, water, and food assistance programs, and called on all parties to the conflict to institute security guarantees.
About 450 ICRC workers remain in Yemen, but ICRC spokeswoman Marie-Claire Feghali said the organization could pull out additional employees in the coming days if security threats continue.
"What is very obvious to us now is that we are being instrumentalized as a pawn in the conflict by both sides and we cannot accept that," Feghali told the Washington Free Beacon. "[The combatants] have in their hands the power to influence how many people we pull out and how many people we keep in Yemen, but today the picture is looking extremely bad. I cannot say if we will keep more people tomorrow."
The ICRC has been on high alert since the fatal shooting of humanitarian worker, Hanna Lahoud, on April 21. Lahoud, a Lebanese national, was on his way to visit a prison on behalf of the aid group in the southwestern Yemeni city of Taiz when unknown gunmen attacked his car.
"Since the killing of Hanna in April, the signals that we are receiving from everyone are that there's a certain leniency and acceptance to the fact that international organizations can be targeted and can be used by one side against the other and we refuse to do that and we refuse to put people at risk," Feghali said.
The Yemen civil war, now in its fourth year, has pit a Saudi-led coalition, backed by the United States, against the Iranian aligned Houthi rebels in a war to restore the United Nations-recognized government in the capital, Sana'a.
Millions of people are at risk of starvation and the population has suffered from the reemergence of preventable diseases due in large part to combatants who have blocked access to food and medical supplies.
A peace plan recently drafted by the UN urges the Houthis to relinquish its ballistic missiles in exchange for an end to the Saudi-led bombing campaign, Reuters reported Wednesday.