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‘We could not take anything with us’: A boy’s story of the conflict and displacement in Yemen

UNICEF Yemen/2016/Fuad
© UNICEF Yemen/2016/Fuad
14-year-old Elias Jamel at Tharawan, a camp for displaced people at the outskirt of the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, fetches water for his family. He fled with his parents when intensive fighting reached his home city of Taiz.

By Bismarck Swangin

Sana’a, Yemen, 12 December 2016 - “I miss home. I miss school. I miss everything there”, 14-year-old Elias Jameel summed up the challenge of living in a makeshift settlement at the outskirts of Sana’a.

He was displaced from home because of intensive fighting in his hometown Taiz, located about 230 kilometres from Sana’a in the southern part of the country.

Jameel was in grade four when the fighting reached Taiz last year. He recalls that there was widespread bombardment and shelling not far from their home. People were killed, buildings were destroyed and schools were forced to close as it was no longer safe for children and teachers to go to school. “Life stopped”, he says. “We were really scared. Everything closed down, we could not get food or even water”.

During a short lull in the fighting, Jameel’s parents decided to leave Taiz and head towards the nation’s capital. He says it was the only way out and so his family had no option but to come to Sana’a city.

The journey from Taiz to Sana’a normally takes about five hours but not this time. It took Jameel and his family double the usual time due to the numerous check points along the way.
“Armed men stop the cars and check everything. We were so tired and we got sick of the journey” he says?

Even though they didn’t have a place to stay in Sana’a, the family rented a car and drove away leaving their homes behind. “We did not take with us anything. Not even food or water”, he said.

They disembarked at Tharawan, a temporary settlement at the outskirts of Sana’a city where displaced people were already camping. Here, his family set up a makeshift shelter made of tents. This is what he calls home now but the conditions are tough. They keep piling wood and stones on top of the tents so that these do not blown away because of heavy winds. “Home was much better than this place because there we have our own things but here we have nothing”, he said.

Jameel’s single wish is for peace to return so that he and his family can return home. “I want the fighting to end so that I can go to school again. I want good food and clean water just like before”.

But a renewed wave of fighting in recent days means such a return is unlikely, at least not any time soon.

Yemen has been engulfed in fighting since March 2015 when a brutal conflict escalated between warring parties. As a result 3.2 million civilians, among them many children have been forced to flee their homes.

The longer these children stay in displacement, the longer the scars of displacement will stay in their lives.

While they struggle with the immediate impact of displacement-sleeping in the open and inadequate-the overall consequences will last long. They face a high risk to drop out of school, being recruited by armed groups and exposure to abuse and exploitation. This will jeopardize not only their future but that of the country.

Over all, displaced children now face a greater challenge to survive and grow to their full potential. Their access to basic services such as health, clean water, education and protection services is now severely curtailed. Others have been separated from their families and now have to fend for themselves.

UNICEF is also supporting community-based child- friendly spaces where children affected by the conflict are given psychosocial support to help them overcome the horrors of the conflict.

To ensure children like Jameel don’t miss out on their education, UNICEF is supporting the Back-To-School, a campaign to assist 2.5 million children get back to learning. School stationery have been distributed to 900,000 children, with a priority on displaced children.



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