Displaced Yemenis seek refuge in Taiz schools
School’s out for many students near Taiz, after thousands of displaced people moved into classrooms to escape war.
Taiz, Yemen – When Yemen’s civil war came to Taiz last April, many residents living in conflict zones fled to rural areas surrounding the city.
With no other place to stay, thousands of the displaced people took refuge in schools, where they continue to live. Blue plastic sheets cover the entrances as residents try to keep the increasingly chilly weather out. Inside the classrooms, blankets and dishes lie on the floor, with no beds to sleep in nor cupboards for storage.
“I used to live in a good house with good furniture … but the war forced us to leave our houses in Taiz city and look for any shelter – even if it is crowded with people,” said Ameen al-Wesabi, 45, who lives in al-Fagr al-Gadeed school in al-Shimayateen district, about 75km from Taiz city.
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Wesabi lives in one classroom with his five family members, including his wife, who suffers from breast cancer. He said she is unable to receive treatment, as there are no charities providing healthcare for displaced people in the schools.
“I used to have a home furnishings store in al-Dhaboaa area in Taiz city, but the war burned down the store and I became a poor man. That is why I see my wife suffering in front of my eyes, and I cannot help her,” Wesabi told Al Jazeera.
I hope to resume my studies ... but when I see the suffering of the displaced people in my school, I feel that they need the school more than us.
The family arrived at the school in May, and since then, Wesabi said he has spent all of his remaining money. Although he and other displaced people in the school are looking for work in the area, they have not yet found anything.
“I came to al-Shimayateen, when I knew that there are schools receiving the displaced people and providing them with three meals a day. However, the meals stopped two weeks ago, and now we are suffering to get basic foods,” Wesabi said.
Al-Hikma, a charity association, provided displaced people at the school with three meals a day for five months. But Ibrahim Hamid, a representative of al-Hikma and the school supervisor, said the charity no longer has the funds to provide meals.
“There are 72 families consisting of 371 members, living in 32 classrooms and using only six bathrooms. And there are some patients inside al-Fagr al-Gadeed school. This means there is a humanitarian disaster in most of these schools, and our association cannot pay more for the displaced people,” Hamid said.
Some international organisations like Oxfam and UNICEF have distributed food baskets to the displaced people, Hamid noted. But this was not part of a regular programme, and Hamid said the displaced people need permanent support.
Abu Dhar al-Ghafari School, located five kilometres from the centre of al-Shimayateen district, has also become a refuge for displaced people.
Wher Yahya al-Nihari, 35, lives with his wife and three children inside one room. He is originally from al-Shimayateen district, but later moved to Taiz; he moved back to al-Shimayateen after the fighting started, but his father’s house there was filled by other needy residents, so he opted to move into the school to be farther away from the fighting.
“I did not leave Taiz until August,” Nihari said. “When a rocket killed two of our neighbours in al-Camp neighbourhood, immediately I left the city towards al-Shimayateen.”
He explained that they do not receive consistent humanitarian aid, but do receive some food and other aid on a haphazard basis.
Nihari added: “We can live without food and without water for some days, but it is difficult to live without peace. That is why we left Taiz city, and even if the school is crowded with residents, it is easy to live in.”
But although the displaced people have found a place to stay, their presence in the schools is preventing students from attending classes. The academic year started in mid-November, but 3,000 students were unable to begin their studies because displaced people were living in the classrooms.
Khalid al-Asbahi, the director of the education office in al-Shimayateen, told Al Jazeera that about 2,000 residents have been living in 20 schools in the district. Eleven schools are completely closed, while the other nine are divided between displaced people and students.
“We have a new plan that we will redistribute the displaced people in just 10 schools. Then we can only close 10 schools, and the affected students can study in other schools,” Asbahi said.
He added that some had suggested the displaced people be removed from the schools entirely, but no alternative living space has been found for them.
“The biggest problem that Taiz faces is the siege of the Houthi rebels, and many of the organisations cannot arrive to help the affected people. So we have to cooperate with the displaced people until they can get an alternative place,” he said.
Aseel Mamoon, 16, a student at al-Fagr al-Gadeed school, helps the men staying at the school and brings them water.
Mamoon is taking the developments in stride. “I hope to resume my studies … but when I see the suffering of the displaced people in my school, I feel that they need the school more than us.”