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At a glance: Yemen

Yemen’s marginalized children caught in the middle of conflict

By Ansar Rashed

For Yemeni families already living at the edges of society, escalating conflict has had a devastating impact on their day-to-day survival.

ADEN, Yemen, 8 July 2015 – Jamal Kholidi, a 13-year-old boy from Crater in Aden, saw his house destroyed by a rocket. He and his family now live in a makeshift camp at a school, along with 76 other homeless families who have poured in from Aden and Lahj.

© UNICEF Yemen/2015/ Abdulbaki
"This school is a shelter for all of us. We are equal in everything, even in this crisis. Why then do they look at us as if we are different?" asks 13-year-old Jamal Kholidi.

Jamal comes from the muhamasheen community (Arabic for ‘marginalized’), a minority group representing about 10 percent of Yemen’s population. Excluded and impoverished, they inhabit the very bottom of the country’s social ladder.

Like many from their community who live in congested slums on the fringes of the major cities, Jamal’s family once lived on the outskirts of Aden city. Heavy fighting has forced them to flee.

The ongoing conflict in Yemen is a double tragedy for the muhamasheen. Even before the fighting escalated in March, they languished at the margins of society, suffering from persistent discrimination, largely based on prejudice towards their dark skin and African origins.
“I never bothered being classified as muhamasheen in school, or in the public park or even in my neighbourhood. But now it does bother me in the camp,” Jamal says. “I miss my house and friends. I miss life back at my home. I was free and happy.”

Poverty and illiteracy

In 2014, UNICEF and local governorates launched a mapping survey to help target the critical needs of this marginalized community.

The results of the survey were disheartening: high levels of poverty combined with low levels of literacy and school enrolment. Only one in five children over 15 could read, and only half of children aged 6–17 were enrolled in school. Only two in five houses had a latrine.

In Taiz, where there is a high proportion of muhamasheen, the survey found that over half of the more than 5,000 children under 1 year old had never received immunizations.

In response, UNICEF designed an integrated package of social protection interventions, including child-sensitive financial inclusion through cash transfers, as well as linking households to basic social services.

The cash assistance, channelled through 20,000 savings accounts for mothers and children aged 10–17, is intended to promote savings for children’s education, health and nutrition.

In addition, muhamasheen children receive school kits and uniforms to facilitate their enrolment and integration in schools.

Like being in a cage

The ongoing conflict, which escalated in March, has negatively affected the delivery of essential services for millions of children in the country.

Targeted programmes for children from marginalized and vulnerable communities such as the muhamahseen have been severely interrupted, forcing them into further destitution.

For families like Jamal’s, what they left behind, in all its destitution and decay, was at least the idea of a home – a home they are not likely to return to anytime soon.

“It’s like being in a cage here” says Jamal’s mother of the camp. “We lost everything.” 

To help meet the needs of families across Yemen who have been uprooted by conflict, UNICEF is providing medical supplies, hygiene kits and water filters. It is also constructing temporary latrines and providing fuel to local water corporations in the worst-hit southern governorates of Abyan, Aden and Lahj for pumping water to homes, which benefits more than a million people.

UNICEF is also providing fuel to the Cleaning and Improvement Fund to ensure continued removal of solid waste from the streets and to sustain garbage collection services. 

Nonetheless, the needs remain enormous. It’s a race against time for children like Jamal and around 10 million others across Yemen who are in urgent need of assistance.



UNICEF Photography: Emergencies

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