News / Middle East

Yemeni Humanitarian Crisis Deepens

During a visit to an isolated desert settlement outside Yemen's capital Sanaa, VOA's Heather Murdock reports on the despair of some of the thousands of people who have fled their homes since the war in northern Yemen began in 2004


Heather Murdock

For families fleeing the war in northern Yemen, options are shrinking.  The capital Sanaa hosts more than 10,000 displaced people, and most live packed into dirty stone rooms without enough food, water or medical care. 

In Guder, on the outskirts of Yemen's capital, Sanaa, nobody seems to care who wins the war.

Yahya Hassen al-Aisery says his home in the Old City of Sa'ada, in Northern Yemen, is now occupied by the Houthis, a rebel army that has been battling the government here for six years.  Al-Aisery says his house is under attack by the Yemeni army.  

His family of 28 now stays in an isolated desert settlement, in the Guder area.  They share two small rooms, and none of the children go to school.

More than 200,000 people have fled their homes since the war began in 2004.  Many, like al-Aisery, have been displaced several times.  Aid workers and journalists have been banned from most of the war torn area, so no one really knows how many people are trapped.

Faisel al-Hussaini alsoo fled his home when renewed fighting broke out last summer.   He says in the war's epicenter, Sa'ada city, droves of people sleep on the streets, under tarps, and in abandoned cars.

The city is under siege, al-Hussaini says, and the little food available is ridiculously expensive for a population that appears to be mostly homeless.

Most of the people that have escaped the region are in refugee camps that opened last fall.  The population of the Mazrak camp, an isolated sea of dusty tents just outside the battlezone, has swelled to over 20,000 people in recent months, double the camp's capacity.  Al-Hussaini says camps provide tents, food, and water, but little dignity.  Many people prefer to try their luck elsewhere.

In Sana'a, he says, families often cannot rent apartments.  Landlords are afraid that northerners might be sympathetic to the rebel cause.  And in a city surrounded by mountains topped with government military bases, no one wants to be known as a Houthi.

But in Yemen, extreme poverty colors almost every aspect of life, and displaced families say lack of food, medicine and clean water are more troubling than discrimination.  Most displaced adults cannot find new jobs, and Sana'a schools often refuse to take displaced children because they do not have transcripts.  But in Guder, families say they are more concerned with surviving the war, and getting home.

For these families it could be a while.  Despite recent peace efforts, both sides report casualties almost daily.  The U.N. refugee agency representative in Yemen, Claire Bourgeois, says the humanitarian crisis is only getting worse. "It is difficult to say because we see we are not in the area of the conflict.  What I can say is a lot of people are coming, and we have not seen anyone returning," she said.

Bourgeois says the conflict has escalated during the past six years and there is no way of knowing when it will end.  And since adults cannot find work, and children cannot go to school, for many displaced families, the only thing they can do, is wait.

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