From hell of war to displacement camps: Hodeida's families struggle to survive

From hell of war to displacement camps: Hodeida's families struggle to survive
Comment: The glimmer of hope may come to light too late for the people of Hodeda, writes a Yemeni journalist.
4 min read
10 Jul, 2018
A Yemeni father and his children who fled Hodeida take refuge in a classroom [Getty]
The offensive to seize Hodeida, a strategic port city in Yemen, is intensifying as the warring parties see this particular confrontation as a matter of life and death.

Though the Saudi-led Arab coalition last week declared a pause in the military campaign to facilitate the UN envoy's peace efforts, clashes continue in areas including Tuhaita district.

While reports have said the fighting has killed 165 combatants, it has also displaced thousands of families, sparking a fresh humanitarian tragedy and a new chapter of misery.  

One month into the fighting for the port, it is unclear if these displaced families will be able to return to their city or when.

A complete cessation of hostilities in Hodeida is unlikely any time soon, and the exodus of people is set to balloon over the coming days. More than 121,000 people have been displaced from Hodeida since the beginning of June, the UN reports.

They fled to Sanaa, Aden and Taiz, seeking relatively safer shelter. This huge wave of displacement is unprecedented in this city, and accommodating these people properly is never an easy mission. Neither of the conflicting sides can provide them with appropriate makeshift shelters, nor can the humanitarian organisations cope with this burst of war escapees.

Today, the displaced have been surviving through heart-rending conditions since their sorrowful escape from their homes, farms and lands.

Multi-faceted ordeal

Hodeida's displaced residents are in dire need of food and shelter. Volunteers, aid organisations and charities may provide meals to these people and fend off daily hunger, but housing remains a tremendous agony.

The Saudi-backed internationally recognised government of Yemen began its military campaign on June 12 to seize Hodeida city from the Iran-allied Houthis. The Saudi-led Arab coalition says Hodeida port is used for smuggling Iranian weapons to the Houthi militants in Yemen.

The Yemeni government also said the Houthis had exploited the Hodeida port revenues for their war efforts - and so re-taking the port might coerce the Houthis into engaging seriously in peace talks.  

Yemeni girls work at a brick factory in Sanaa to earn money for their families [Getty]

"We escaped from Hodeida to Sanaa due to the war," Muhammed Abdulmunem, a displaced person from Hodeida, told Saeeda TV, a Yemeni network.

"We have been searching ten days to rent a house. So far, we have not found even a flat. The house rent in Sanaa has skyrocketed since the influx of Hodeida's displaced families."

Abdulmunem added: "I can pay the rent, but I have not found any flat or house. What about those who cannot pay? Where can they go?"

Although the Houthi-held Sanaa city has been bombed sporadically by the Saudi-led coalition since 2015, those displaced here feel safe that there is no ground fighting. Sanaa has been under Houthi control since September 2014.

Abdulla Abdu, another displaced person, arrived in Sanaa ten days ago. He says he is now safe, but is appalled by the accommodation on offer.

"The displaced people live in school classrooms," said Abdu. "If you visit them, you will see about 50 people in one classroom. Others are left on the streets. We have escaped from the ground war in Hodeida to economic war in Sanaa.

Several families attempted to head to Aden as the violence kicked off in their areas of Hodeida. But secessionist voices have grown tremendously louder and sterner over the past two years, and checkpoints held by separatists in Lahj prevented those fleeing from Hodeida from passing, saying they were coming from the north.

Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmed bin Daghr reacted, saying the roadblocks stopping the displaced travelling south were illegal.

"Banning the northern families from entering Aden is not in our traditions, norms and morals," he said. "Risking the lives of children, women and the elderly is prohibited."

Peace attempts underway

The UN continues to offer ideas and proposals on peace in Yemen, and this time a little hope has appeared. Two urgent issues seem to have been prioritised: averting an all-out war in Hodeida and bringing the opponents to the negotiating table.  

Last week, UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths was in Sanaa as part of his efforts to score progress towards peace negotiations after more than three years of bloody fighting.

Read more: The magical thinking behind an attack on Hodeida

He met with the Houthis' chief, commending him: "I'm especially thankful to Abdul Malik al-Houthi for his support and the fruitful discussion we held."

The meeting between the two is not a guarantee that constructive peace talks will now take place, but it points to an apparent enthusiasm for a fresh round of dialogue - though the Houthis are clearly game to fight fiercely if the offensive continues.

On Thursday, Griffiths briefed the UN Security Council on his peace efforts in Yemen. The Council released a statement emphasising that a political solution is the only way to resolve the conflict.

But such a political solution may come too late for the people of Hodeida, killed in the fighting, or displaced from the city's rubble.

The writer is a Yemeni journalist, reporting from Yemen, whose identity we are protecting for their security.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.