SANAA, YEMEN - About 3,000 Yemeni children are fleeing every day from the port city of Hodeida as fighting between a Saudi-led coalition and Yemen’s Shiite rebels continues to rage along the country’s west coast, an international aid group said Thursday.
Save the Children estimated that 6,238 people — half of them children — leave Hodeida on average “every single day.”
But their trek to safer areas is perilous as families often find themselves “having to brave minefields, airstrikes and being forced to cross areas of active fighting all in a bid to escape” Hodeida, a statement from the group said.
The Saudi-led coalition backing Yemeni’s internationally recognized government has been fighting to defeat the rebels, known as Houthis, since March 2015. It has been recently seeking to retake rebel-held areas along the country’s western coast, including Hodeida, the main entry point for food in a country teetering on the brink of famine.
In a bid to prevent an all-out fight in Hodeida, the U.N. special envoy for Yemen has been pushing to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table. Martin Griffiths has also held several meetings with both sides in recent weeks.
Yemen’s government has called for rebels’ “unconditional withdrawal” from Hodeida but the Houthis have long refused to hand over the city.
Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children’s country director for Yemen, described the situation in Hodeida as that in a “ghost town,” saying “the streets are empty even in the day and there are checkpoints everywhere. The devastation that airstrikes and shelling have caused is clear to see.”
He called for “an immediate cease-fire” and urged Yemen’s warring parties to join U.N. peace efforts.
The aid group also warned that a fresh wave of violence in the city is putting the lives of Yemeni children “in extreme danger.”
The U.N. says a total of 47,230 displaced households from Hodeida have been registered as of July 24. On Wednesday, the U.N. children’s agency warned of the potential for another cholera outbreak after airstrikes hit water facilities and other civilian infrastructure in Hodeida.
The three-year stalemated war has killed over 10,000 people, badly damaged Yemen’s infrastructure and crippled its health system. The country is now the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 22.2 million people in need of assistance. Malnutrition, cholera and other diseases have killed or sickened thousands of civilians over the years.