A group of over 70 House Democrats sent a letter to President Biden urging him to pressure Saudi Arabia into lifting the blockade on Yemen as the UN is warning 400,000 Yemeni children under the age of five will starve to death if conditions don’t change.
The letter was led by Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Debbie Dingell (D-MI). The lawmakers said the president should demand an end to the blockade “independently” of the ongoing negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s Houthis, although ending the embargo would jump-start the peace talks since it is a key Houthi demand for a ceasefire.
“We ask you take additional steps to publicly pressure Saudi Arabia to lift this blockade immediately, unilaterally, and comprehensively,” the letter reads. “This must include guaranteeing that humanitarian and commercial imports can freely enter Yemen; entrusting security oversight to the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM); fully permitting flights in and out of Sana’a airport; and ensuring that crossings for commercial and civilian traffic are permanently opened.”
Rep. Ro Khanna voiced frustration with the Biden administration’s failure to act on this issue on Twitter on Thursday. “There is growing frustration among House members & Senators about the Admin response to the blockade & potential continued intelligence & spare parts to Saudis,” he wrote. The administration has failed to update lawmakers on how much support the US is still providing to the Saudi-led coalition. It’s also not clear if the US Navy is helping enforce the blockade, something it has done in the past.
Saudi Arabia recently allowed four oil tankers to dock in the port of Hodeidah, but aid groups told CNN that it is not nearly enough fuel to facilitate aid deliveries in the country. Saudi warships have blocked at least 14 vessels from entering Hodeidah this year that the UN had cleared to enter Yemen.
The justification for the blockade is that it keeps arms out of the hands of the Houthis. But since the US-backed intervention began in March 2015, the Houthis’ ability to strike inside Saudi Arabia has only increased, demonstrating that the blockade is doing nothing but starve civilians.
While the UN has not officially declared famine in Yemen, people in the country have been starving to death in large numbers for years due to conditions caused by the US-backed blockade and bombing campaign. In 2018, Save the Children published a report that said as many as 85,000 children under the age of five starved to death in Yemen between April 2015 and October 2018.