Save the children of Yemen, Joely Richardson urges Government

Actress Joely Richardson called on Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia as she spoke of the need to protect children in Yemen.

Marking the third anniversary of the escalation of the Yemen conflict, Save The Children ambassadors Richardson and TV presenter Natasha Kaplinsky have signed a petition which is being handed in to the Foreign Office.

The petition, which has more than 60,000 signatures, is calling on the UK Government to immediately suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia and ensure unfettered humanitarian access to children in Yemen.

Richardson told the Press Association: "Children should never be the victims of war, and they should be protected, and we shouldn't be selling arms towards anyone that would bomb children and civilians."

Asked what her message to the Foreign Secretary would be, Richardson said: "Save the children of Yemen."

The actress added: "The point is that it's year three of a war, and that there are 17 million people who are being starved ... famine, cholera, the air strikes. 

"It's a terrible situation, but I'm here specifically to save the children.

"Again, children shouldn't be victims of war."

Richardson and Kaplinsky joined school pupils from around the UK outside the Houses of Parliament on Monday morning.

The celebrity duo held the charity's red petition box and stood next to the "unnamed child" statue which symbolises the children of Yemen.

The UK has sold £4.6 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since air strikes in Yemen began, according to the Campaign Against Arms Trade.

Saudi Arabia has faced criticism over its role in Yemen's civil war, with warnings that the kingdom was "orchestrating what will potentially become the worst famine in the last 50 years".

Save The Children said there have been more than 15,000 air strikes and 1,600 children have been killed, more than half in air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition, since the beginning of the conflict.

Save the Children petition
Natasha Kaplinsky and Joely Richardson hand in a Save the Children petition with more than 60,000 signatures to the Foreign Office, urging the Government to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Jack Madden, senior campaigns adviser at Save The Children, said it is one of the largest campaign petitions the charity has ever had.

"It's because people feel so strongly about what the Government are doing, and feel strongly about what's happening to children in Yemen.

"It's the largest humanitarian disaster on the planet right now, and people across the UK want to see the Government do more to protect Yemen's children," he said.

Mr Madden said Mr Johnson must use the relationship that Britain has with Saudi Arabia and all other actors as "a global leader" to do more to protect the children of Yemen.

He said more needs to be done to make sure that humanitarian and commercial goods are let into the country, and that people who have committed violations against children are held to account in Yemen.

"He can suspend weapon sales to Saudi Arabia to help stop fuelling the conflict, and to make sure that we maintain funding and access for aid into the country in order to help rebuild children's lives in Yemen," he said.

Save the Children petition
Natasha Kaplinsky and Joely Richardson (left) with the 'unnamed child' statue which symbolises the children of Yemen (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Mr Madden said one particular story that has stuck with him is that of one-year-old Zuhoor, whose family home was hit by an air strike when her family were gathered for a funeral.

"She was one of the only people to survive and was pulled out of the rubble. She was saved because she ended up in an air pocket in the rubble.

"She lost all the fingers on her hand and was obviously traumatised by the event and lost several members of her family," he said.

Mr Madden said Save The Children has been working on the ground to help children like Zuhoor rebuild their lives.

He said he hopes the Foreign Secretary will consider suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia "given the weight of people behind this", adding: "Whether he does it today or not, Save The Children are still going to be here standing up and fighting for children in Yemen and children around the world that need our help most.

"And we hope that Boris Johnson will use his role as a global leader to do the same."

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International Deve;opment Secretary Penny Mordaunt (Nick Ansell/PA)

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said Iran should stop sending weapons into Yemen if it is genuinely committed to supporting a political solution to the conflict.

In a joint statement, the two Cabinet ministers highlighted how a UN panel of experts recently concluded that Iran is in non-compliance with UN Security Council Resolutions.

The UN experts said Iran had failed to "prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer" of items including ballistic missiles.

Mr Johnson and Ms Mordaunt said Saudi Arabia has "the right to defend itself against security threats including missiles launched from Yemen".

They added: "We support the Saudi-led coalition's efforts to restore legitimacy in Yemen, as accepted by the UN Security Council."

Calling on all parties to "return to the negotiating table to find an inclusive political solution", they also warned that "without de-escalation and a political settlement millions of civilians risk starvation".

"We will continue to play our part in restoring the peace and security needed for Yemenis to resume normal lives."

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