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British arms exports potentially aggravating Yemen’s humanitarian crisis

International NGO, Oxfam, has alleged extreme malpractice by the British government, calling the exponential increase in arms sales a key factor in the prolonging of the brutal war.

The export of air-to-air refuelling equipment has received widespread condemnation, with fears raised regarding the perpetuation of Saudi air superiority and the subsequent increase of their capacity to conduct indiscriminate bombing runs. Sam Nadel, head of policy and advocacy at Oxfam, said that the UK is:

“ramping up its support for the brutal Saudi-led war by increasing arms sales and refuelling equipment that facilitate airstrikes.”

The British government has approved around £1.4bn of arms sales to Saudi Arabia since the lifting of the ban on weapons exports to the country last year. The Gulf state has remained the UK’s most active importer of military goods since 2008, with around £12bn worth of arms exported during that period.

The British government has long come under fire for its provision of military goods to repressive regimes. In 2019, it was found that the UK sold £1.3bn of weapons to 26 of the 48 countries that are classed as “not free” by Freedom House. In the same year, British weapons exports to countries identified as having human rights issues increased by 390%, to around £849m.

The continued approval of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia directly contradicts Dominic Raab’s calls for a UN resolution for a global ceasefire to allow those living in conflict zones to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. The foreign secretary described a “moral duty to act” saying that:

“the UK is calling for a vaccination ceasefire to allow COVID-19 vaccines to reach people living in conflict zones”

Despite the Biden administration’s announcement of an end to US support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen; the British government has so far ignored pressure to replicate such action, with the probable aggravation of the region’s humanitarian crisis seemingly overlooked.

According to Mark Lowcock, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Yemen is “speeding towards the worst famine” seen in decades – more than 16 million people are currently going hungry and 5 million are “just one step away” from famine. Lowcock continued, stating that:

“400,000 children under the age of 5 are severely malnourished across the country. Those children are in their last weeks and months.”

As the front line moves closer to civilian areas, the consequences of the fighting on efforts to prevent famine will become clear. The displacement of “hundreds of thousands of people”, impeded humanitarian access and a steep decline in funding will likely culminate in a crisis of catastrophic proportions.

The British government therefore, has an obligation to ensure that its actions do not induce or exacerbate such a crisis. They must act on their calls for a global ceasefire and guarantee that the lives of the Yemeni people are prioritised over the export of military goods.

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