Yemen’s scattered refugees

Conflict forces thousands of Yemenis, many of them children, to leave all behind.

Phoebe Greenwood, Save the Children, Yemen piece photos
The crisis has made food, water and shelter even more insecure for already vulnerable children

As the conflict between government forces and Houthi fighters grinds on in the mountains of Saada in northern Yemen, thousands of Yemeni civilians, many of them children, are being forced from their homes by the fighting.

The latest UN figures estimate that 150,000 have so far been displaced by the bloodiest bout in this war, fought intermittently since 2004.

More than 6,000 people have made their way to the Al-Mazraq camp in Haradh district. There, in sweltering heat, they are receiving food, water, medical and psychological support.

The rest are scattered, finding shelter wherever they can.

In Amran, a district directly south of Saada, around 28,000 people are camping with relatives, in school buildings and rented houses.

They have either been unwilling to head to the camp or unable to bear the heat.

Concealed within the community, they are difficult to reach and to help.

Heavy fighting

Hussein is a teacher from Haidan district, one of the first areas in Saada to suffer heavy fighting.

Amran is housing about 28,000 displaced people

He moved to Amran with his wife and their six children earlier this week and is renting a house with nine other families from their village.

Of the 53 people sharing three rooms, 33 are children.

Hussein says: “We decided to come to Amran because we heard NGOs were helping people here. We went to Al-Mazraq first. We were waiting there to be registered but weren’t given a tent.

“The children we saw were sick with malaria and it was too hot, so we decided to come here.

“We are safe and almost comfortable except there are clearly too many people in one place and we are poor.

“The government has given us some food but not enough. We had to leave all our belongings behind us and now we are using what money we have on rent.”

Vulnerable children

In Yemen, one in every two children is malnourished and the rate of child mortality is high.

This conflict and the resulting mass displacement have made food, water and shelter even more insecure for already vulnerable children.

A Save the Children report published this week which examines at the neglected crisis of global child mortality warns that in conflicts it is always children who are most vulnerable.

Like many children, Hissin’s son is afraid when he hears planes overhead  

In Amran, the organisation has been seeking out vulnerable families within the displaced community.

It creates safe places where their children can play with toys, kites and footballs and forget even briefly the trauma of the war.

Hissin, Ali Hussein’s neighbour, asks his 18-month-old son what noise a plane makes.

“Arrrggggh boom boom boom!!!” he replies.

Raga, Hussein’s wife, explains: “All the kids are afraid of planes. Whenever they see one in the sky, they all put their fingers in their ears because they think there will be loud fighting.”

Saad arrives on foot with Ayyad, her eight-year-old grandson. She cries when she sees Ghalib, Ayyad’s father, who arrived with his wife and their four other children the previous day.

Ayyad says: “We’ve had a very long drive and a very long walk. I stayed behind when mum and dad left because I wanted to stay with my granny.

“She has looked after me since I was a baby.”

He quickly kisses his father and runs off to join his cousins in a game of football with Save the Children volunteers.

Family separated

Many of the displaced have been separated from their families. Raada has not yet been reunited with her family.

Raada has left her twin girls behind

Wiping away tears, she says: “I left my twin girls who I am still breast-feeding behind.

“We’ve had to come in groups because cars come to our village so rarely.

“They smuggle us out through remote routes on the mountain. It’s a three-day journey.

“My husband is hiding in the mountains with other men from our village.

“They can’t be in the houses because it’s not safe from the planes or the fighting on the ground.

“It is torture leaving your home, everything you own.”

Peace sought

The local government authority in Amran is planning a camp similar to Al-Mazraq to provide food and shelter for the influx of displaced.

It has agreed to work with NGOs, including Save the Children, to ensure the medical and psychological needs of children there are met.

But for the thousands who have abandoned all they own to the conflict, what they need most desperately is peace.

Raga says: “We hope most of all that we will all be able to return home. The community has been co-operative with us but we are aliens in this area.

There is nothing to do here, we can’t tend to our farms, it’s just depressing.”

Phoebe Greenwood works for Save the Children UK, a global children’s charity.

Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of external websites.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera


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