As many countries around the global battle the COVID-19 pandemic, Yemen’s isolation from the rest of the world, has for now, thankfully left it free of cases. But self-isolation, disease, restriction of movement and loss of economic opportunity are not new to them. Add on the horror of bombings and fighting and this is the horror families have been living for the last five years. An estimated 24 million people are currently in need of humanitarian assistance inside Yemen, and as the threat of COVID-19 looms, the country is also currently battling a cholera epidemic that has already seen more than 87,000 suspected cases in the first 3 months of 2020.
All of a sudden, three mothers and their children found themselves forced to flee for the third time in five years. This time around they were forced to travel through the desert to reach Marib Governorate - eastern Yemen. The mothers describe the cruel journey that they and their children were forced to take after the city of Al-Hazm where they had been living, was without warning, enveloped by fighting.
"Everything was normal and there were no confrontations when we went to bed. However, we woke up in the morning to find out that fighting seized control of Al-Hazm City. So we had to flee with only the clothes we were wearing," recounts Aisha Ahmed Saleh, a mother of six. She continues, "It's our fate to be constantly in displacement."
In search of safety, the women and their families were forced to take unknown and circuitous routes through the desert in order to avoid the fighting and reach relative safety in the neighbouring Ma’rib Governorate some 150 kilometres away. A journey that would normally take 4-5 hours instead took the families over 14 hours. Aisha notes, "this was the first time we knew what real thirst and hunger are. We expected the journey to last for four or five hours, as usual. And as adults, we were able to handle hunger unlike our children who were literally starving to death because of the desert, the scorching sun, and the bumpy road that made it difficult for us to have a smooth ride on the bus.”
After arriving in Ma'rib Governorate, Aisha, her six children and the other two families took shelter in a mud house belonging to an already displaced person living in Al-Jufaina camp, south of the Governorate. Despite the fact the house was around 100m² they were welcomed in warmly. With Aisha’s family and that of her friends, there were now 28 people living in this small two room house. Around 25,000 people are arriving to Al-Jufaina camp on a daily basis according to local authorities, as a result of this latest fighting.
The relative comfort that Aisha had managed to secure for herself and her family over the 3 years that they were based in Al-Jawf was all lost in a second when they were forced to flee. Over this time she had managed to fully equip their house with a refrigerator, water tanks, and even air conditioners. All this was left behind.
In 2015, Aisha’s family and those of her friends, were forced to flee for the first time, from Sana'a to Al-Jawf. One year later, they all returned to Sana'a, only to be forced to return to Al-Jawf in 2017.
Aisha’s friend - Warda Youssuf, a mother of four daughters - says, "we thought that the war was over and that our lives would go back to normal, where there would be security and stability to raise our children and send them to school, like all mothers in the world, but that turned out to be wishful thinking.
The current school year in Yemen is about to end and Warda hasn’t been able to enroll any of her children in schools because their documents are still with the school where they were studying before in Al-Hazm city. Since recovering these documents is now extremely difficult, it is very likely the children will lose out on a full year of schooling.
Three of the children from amongst the three families are also suffering with health conditions, making this continuous displacement even more of a worry. Ten-year-old Ruba has developed non-genetic diabetes, while twelve-year-old Basma, and her brother Ahmed suffer from a genetic blood disorder, called thalassemia, which can lead to anaemia and other side effects including weak bones, gall stones and heart problems. As a result, they need continuous healthcare treatment and supervision which is almost impossible to find in the context of a displacement camp.
These mothers are sending a message to the world to save the Yemenis from this war and end their suffering. They hope that they can live in peace and safety again, and that their children can enjoy their rights to life and education like every other child across the world.
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