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Forced to live on the margins after fleeing fighting in Al-Mokha in Yemen

UNICEF Yemen/2017/La-Kamali
© UNICEF Yemen/2017/La-Kamali
The unfinished building in Ibb city where Khaled and other families that fled from Al-Mokha now live in.

By Tahani Saeed

IBB, 13 March 2017 - An abandoned, unfinished building in Ibb city is now home to eight families who fled the fighting in Al-Mokha. They left Al-Mokha some two months ago when fighting along Yemen’s western coast started again resulting in water and food shortages.

The men couldn’t go out fishing as armed men prevented them from doing so. When they could not take it anymore the eight families decided to leave their homes but just when they started walking away, the planes flew overhead, frightening them, and they went back to their homes.

The next day, they were bent on leaving whatever the odds because they had no food and they could not bear the hunger and insecurity any longer. But they had no money to leave. The car driver who was supposed to transport them refused. He wanted cash. So they walked. After two hours along the way, they found another transporter who took them to Al-Barh town of Makbana district in Taiz. In Al-Barh a Good Samaritan paid for their transportation to Ibb. The journey from Al-Mokha to Ibb takes between four to five hours in good times. This time it took them 19 hours as they had to detour frontlines and stop several times at check-points manned by the army.

UNICEF Yemen/2017/La-Kamali
© UNICEF Yemen/2017/La-Kamali
13 year-old Khaled is weighed down by the loss of his parents when a bomb hit their home in Al-Mokha.

In Ibb, they stopped near a restaurant where somebody took them to his house and gave them food and shelter for the night. The next day he took them to an unfinished building. Another person brought them some blankets and mattresses. The nearby families brought some clothes for them. The owner of the restaurant gave them breakfast and Lunch. For dinner they ate whatever was left over from lunch. Sometimes they slept hungry.

The building where they have taken shelter has no water or sanitation facilities and could become risky during the rainy season. The families use water and the toilets at a nearby mosque which is not open all the time. Their pray is that they can go back soon to their homes in Al-Mokha but with the fighting there intensifying, a quick return looks unlikely.

One of the occupants of the unfinished house is 13 year-old Khaled. He was in grade four but had to leave school a year ago due to the ongoing conflict. He is one of 350,000 children in Yemen whose education has been disrupted by the conflict.

Khaled has bitter memories of the conflict that has left him and his siblings orphans. His parents were killed when a bomb hit their home one morning.

“We were having breakfast inside the house while my parents were having it outside. That’s when my mother was hit by shrapnel and died immediately. My father who was besides her was also hit and died as well”, Khaled said as tears welled in his eyes. “I miss my parents, I want to hug them,” he said and kept a long silence. “I want to be happy and play with them but I will never again”.

The loss of his parents has affected Khaled deeply. While visiting them at the unfinished building they now call home, a photo of Khaled’s mother was being passed around. Khaled looked sadly at the photo and asked his aunt for a copy. She hid it from him, not wanting the boy to be reminded constantly of his great loss.

Khaled has three younger siblings, two sisters and a brother. The only close relatives they now look up to are his frail grandmother and Ruba, his 18 year-old aunt.

© UNICEF Yemen/2017/La-Kamali
Khaled(second right) with his siblings in Ibb city where they now live in an unfinished building.

Ruba was herself forced to leave school a year ago when at grade 11 due to the conflict. When the sound of bombing are heard she still cries and faints. She says they cannot go back as their house in Al-Mokha was destroyed.

The conflict in Yemen is having a devastating impact on children. The psychological burden is enormous and many children will carry the horrors into their adult life. That is why, UNICEF has prioritized psychosocial support for conflict affected children to help them overcome the bitter memories.

In recent weeks, fighting along Yemen’s western coastal areas has uprooted over 48,000 people, 38,000 of them from Al-Mokha alone. Like Khaled, nearly half of them are children. In spite of the insecurity and access challenges, UNICEF staff have been on the ground to assess needs and provide critical assistance for children, including water, and screening and treatment for malnutrition and diseases.

Back at the unfinished building in Ibb, Khaled says he wishes he can go back home. Unfortunately there is little he can do for his dream to come true. The conflict must end and that squarely rests with the parties.

Tahani Saeed is Education Officer with UNICEF Taiz zonal office based in Ibb city. 



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