Open main menu

United Arab Emirates takeover of Socotra

The United Arab Emirates takeover of Socotra describes the diplomatic tension that occurred between Yemen's then prime minister Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr and the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces. On 30 April 2018, approximately 100 troops were deployed as part of the Arab coalition intervention with artillery and armored vehicles to the Yemeni archipelago of Socotra in the Guardafui Channel without prior coordination with the Yemeni government. The initial deployment consisted of UAE military aircraft carrying more than fifty UAE soldiers and two armored vehicles, followed by two more aircraft carrying more soldiers, tanks and other armored vehicles.[2][3] Al Jazeera reported that shortly after landing, UAE forces dismissed Yemeni government personnel stationed at administrative installations such as Socotra Airport and seaports until further notice, and the flag of the United Arab Emirates was raised above official government buildings in Hadibu.[4]

UAE takeover of Socotra
Part of the Yemeni Crisis and the Yemeni Civil War
  United Arab Emirates
  Socotra, Yemen
Planned by United Arab Emirates Armed Forces
ObjectiveSafeguard trade route through the Gulf of Aden.[1]
Date30 April 2018 – 14 May 2018
(2 weeks)
Executed byUnited Arab Emirates Army
  • UAE Army administers control of Socotra Airport, seaports, and all four islands of the archipelago on 30 April 2018.
  • Administrative control of the island returned to the Yemeni government on 14 May 2018.
  • Joint military training exercise agreed upon between Yemen and the UAE.

Yemen's internationally-recognised government condemned the takeover of administrative installations as "an act of aggression"; however no military resistance to Emirati troops was reported.[5] The United Arab Emirates Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement declaring that it's role in Socotra is not strategic or ambitious, but comes as part of the Arab coalition deployment in Yemen and reaffirming that the archipelago's is part of Yemen's territory. The UAE stated that the tension rose due to their miscommunication with the Yemen's government, expressing that in hindsight they should have communicated more before the deployment.[6]

Two weeks later on 14 May, Saudi troops were also deployed to the archipelago and a deal was brokered between the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces and Yemen's forces for a joint military training exercise and the return of administrative control of Socotra's airport and seaport to Yemen.[7][8][9]



Since 2000, UAE humanitarian organizations such as Emirates Red Crescent have played an active role in Socotra. The organization provided relief and aid in March 2000 after major floods damaged buildings and agriculture.[10] In 2015, cyclone Chapala and cyclone Megh struck the island, causing severe damages to the Island's infrastructure, homes, roads, and power. Due to the collective impacts of Chapala and Megh, the United Arab Emirates sent an aid ship and plane, carrying 500 tons of food, 10 tons of blankets and tents, and 1,200 barrels of food.[11] In a 2003 US diplomatic cable, Iranian companies were also noted to have completed several projects in Yemen, including building the Socotra airport strip.[12]

In 2016, the UAE increased supplies delivered to Socotra that had been largely abandoned and forgotten during the Yemen civil war. In October 2016, the 31st cargo aircraft landed in Socotra Airport containing two tons of aid.[13][14] At that time, the UAE also established a military base on the island as part of the Saudi led intervention.[13] In 2017, Emirati troops had already been deployed on the island as part of the Saudi-led intervention, some Yemeni political factions accused the UAE of attempting to occupy Socotra and looting and ravaging the flora of the island.[15][13] The UAE’s investments and support to the Island has been criticized by the Houthis, who accused the UAE of occupying Socotra.[10]

The UAE has conducted several humanitarian projects in the island, such as building the Island's main hospital the Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Hospital in Hadibu in 2012, appointing teachers, and providing students with scholarship for further education in UAE or abroad while also extending support to Socotra's two colleges. After cyclone Chapala and Megh, the UAE helped rebuild many of the destroyed facilities, including installing lighting for the Socotra airport and rebuilding Socotra's main commercial port. The Khalifa bin Zayed Foundation, one of the two humanitarian foundations of the UAE in Socotra, established a power station providing 24 hours electricity to the Islanders who previously only had 4 hours of electricity. Other projects that were supported include building wells and access to clean water, building infrastructure, and building a factory for canning and exporting fish in support of local fishermen.[10]

In May 2018, The Independent newspaper reported that the UAE has "annexed the island" and built a communications network, as well as conducted census and provided Socotra residents with free healthcare and work permits in Abu Dhabi.[16]

On 3 May 2018, protests rallied against the growing UAE presence in the Island, demanding an immediate withdrawal.[17] However on 6 May 2018, pro-Emirati supporters gathered in the island's capital Hadibu to support the UAE presence on the island.[18]


Yemen and the United Arab EmiratesEdit

A statement from then Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr’s office said the UAE military’s seizure of the seaport and airport on Socotra was an “unjustified” assault on Yemen’s sovereignty.[19]

The UAE Foreign Ministry responded to Bin Daghr by saying it was "surprised" by the statement and blamed Muslim Brotherhood-led parties for "distorting" its role. The Foreign Ministry stated "The UAE military presence in all liberated Yemeni provinces, including Socotra, comes within the efforts of the Arab Coalition to support legitimate government at this critical stage in the history of Yemen."[20] The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a statement "The UAE’s role in Socotra is not strategic, the UAE does not have any ambitions on the archipelago. It is a Yemeni territory." Gargash also stated "Because Socotra was far away from the conflict in Yemen, we took a decision not to communicate what we were doing there. In hindsight, we should have communicated more." He clarified that the UAE will continue with the humanitarian development of the island's community with over 40 aid projects and subsidies to fishermen, improving the harbors and the Island's infrastructure.[6]

International reactionsEdit

On 10 May 2018, the United States said it was "closely following the situation on the island of Socotra" and called for "de-escalation and dialogue" between the UAE and Yemen.[21]

On 11 May 2018, Turkey showed concern about the event. The Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs said "we are closely following the recent developments in Yemen's Socotra Island. We are concerned about these developments that pose a new threat to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Yemen", and called on all relevant actors to respect the legitimate Yemeni government and to refrain from taking measures that could further complicate the situation.[22]


  1. ^ "The UAE's Geostrategic Plans in Yemen and the Gulf of Aden". Australian Institute of International Affairs.
  2. ^ "Anger in Yemen after UAE troops take over 'alien' island of Socotra". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  3. ^ "UAE deploys troops to Yemen's Socotra island". The Daily Star - Lebanon. 7 May 2018. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  4. ^ "Anger erupts on Yemen's Socotra as UAE deploys over 100 troops". Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  5. ^ "UAE forces 'occupy' sea and airports on Yemen's Socotra". Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  6. ^ a b Al Wasmi, Naser (20 May 2018). "UAE's Gargash says Socotra presence 'not strategic'". The National.
  7. ^ "Yemen PM: Crisis over UAE deployment to Socotra over".
  8. ^ "Yemen, UAE Agree on Deal Over Socotra". Al Bawaba. 14 May 2018.
  9. ^ "As Saudi Arabia and the UAE struggle for control of Socotra, Yemen's island paradise may just swap one occupation for another". The Independent. 21 May 2018.
  10. ^ a b c "UAE role making a difference in Socotra". Arab Weekly. 20 January 2019.
  11. ^ "Khalifa Foundation sends aid to Socotra Archipelago". ReliefWeb. Emirates News Agency. 24 November 2015. Retrieved 3 February 2016.
  13. ^ a b c "Socotra: How a strategic island became part of a Gulf power struggle". The Jerusalem Post. 6 May 2018. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  14. ^ "UAE offers a helping hand to the island of Socotra". The National. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  15. ^ Forster, Robert (2017). "The Southern Transitional Council: Implications for Yemen's Peace Process" (PDF). Middle East Policy. 24 (3): 133–144. doi:10.1111/mepo.12295.
  16. ^ "Socotra island: The Unesco-protected 'Jewel of Arabia' vanishing amid Yemen's civil war". The Independent. 2 May 2018.
  17. ^ "Street protests continue on Yemen's Socotra island over growing UAE presence". The New Arab. 7 May 2018. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  18. ^ "Socotra residents rally in support of UAE". Gulf News. 6 May 2018. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  19. ^ "Anger in Yemen after UAE troops take over 'alien' island of Socotra". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  20. ^ "UAE says military presence on Yemen's Socotra 'distorted'". Daily Mail. 6 May 2018. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  21. ^ "US calls for dialogue and de-escalation of situation in Yemen's Socotra". Middle East Monitor. 10 May 2018. Retrieved 11 May 2018.
  22. ^ "Turkey concerned by Yemen's territorial integrity after UAE's Socotra move". Daily Sabah. 11 May 2018. Retrieved 17 May 2018.