The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR has warned of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen, saying lack of food and medical attention has reached a magnitude "beyond any humanitarian catastrophe."

"There is significant famine, there are people dying because of lack of medical attention, there are people out of schools simply because the schools are being used as shelters for displaced people," UNHCR's Yemen representative Ayman Gharaibeh said.

"It is beyond any humanitarian catastrophe that we've seen," he said on the sidelines of a news briefing in Geneva.

Yemen has been in war since March 2015, when a coalition led by Saudi Arabia began bombing former President Ali Abdullah Saleh's loyalists, also known as Houthis. The Houthis had managed to take over Yemen's capital, Sana'a.  Riyadh is currently trying to reinstate President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has fled the country.

At least three million people have been displaced and more than 7,500 killed since then. According to UNHCR, some 18 million people are dependent on external aid in order to survive.

For most people, food, water and shelter are a priority. Many are also living in crowded shelters for several months, without sufficient protection.

According to Gharaibeh, the UNHCR needs $99.6 million to continue its relief operations. However, the agency only has one percent of that amount. "We are the beginning of the year - we're in mid-February - and it's important that we have contributions in a timely, phased manner, with the pace to allow us to a way that will continue to provide that same level of assistance throughout the year," he said.

This year, the UN agency started with just $600,000 in its account, Gharaibeh told reporters.

Refugees fleeing towards Yemen

Fighting drove out nearly 90,000 Yemenis from the country to the Horn of Africa last year, but surprisingly, many more people were headed towards the war-torn nation. According to the UNHCR, more than 117,000 people crossed the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea to Yemen last year.

Since 2013, nearly 290,000 refugees have made their way into the warzone. Around 80 percent of these were Ethiopians, with the rest being mostly Somalis. Most looked to travel beyond Yemen to safer areas, but others were looking to settle in the war-torn country, unaware of the dangers.

The UN refugee agency has meanwhile launched a special campaign to create awareness among migrants on the dangers of assault, extortion, abuse and human trafficking by criminal groups. The agency says that it takes between $300 and 500 to to travel from Ethiopia or Somalia to Yemen. However, extortion and refugees being kidnapped for ransom means people on the move stand to lose much more.

"We want to empower refugees to take informed decisions about their future," Volker Türk, the UNHCR's assistant high commissioner for protection, said in a statement. According to the agency's figures, women are particularly at risk of being sexually abused and trafficked. Children, who make up a quarter of those travelling to Yemen, also need special protection.

Infomigrants (with UNHCR)

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