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Displaced in Yemen refuse to return without compensation

Families in Aden are being forced to live in makeshift tents and suffer from poor health

  • Yemeni displaced people who struggle to get out of their desperate condition.Photo courtesy Saleh KhaledImage Credit:
  • Yemeni displaced people who struggle to get out of their desperate condition.Photo courtesy Saleh KhaledImage Credit:
  • Yemeni displaced people who struggle to get out of their desperate condition.Photo courtesy Saleh KhaledImage Credit:
Gulf News

Aden: In one of Aden’s sports stadia that was reconditioned to host the Gulf Cup in 2010, the penniless Ali and his family live in a ragged shanty along with many other Internally Displaced Persons who fled homes during the government’s fierce battles with Al Qaida in the southern province of Abyan. Al Qaida’s branch is Yemen managed to capture many cities in the south in May 2011.

Thousands of families deserted their homes when the government launched a massive attack to regain control of the cities. After nearly a year of heavy clashes, government forces managed to push militants out of their stronghold in June 2012. Despite a considerable stability in Abyan, many families prefer to stay in their makeshift dwellings until the government reconstructs their ruined cities.

Ali, 46, who suffers from many diseases and has difficulty breathing, was once a farmer in the war-torn Abyan. He said: “I left my destroyed house when the government forces tried to dislodge militants from the province. The government neither paid us to build a new home nor took the initiative and reconstructed the province.”

He added: “We are broke. We get most of our aid from local businessmen or international organisations. I spend my time waiting outside my tent for any person who may come to offer help. I call upon the government to compensate us for damaged houses or build new ones in order to be able to return home.”

Ali’s wife, Aisha, 46, is also suffering from high blood pressure and heart disease. She told Gulf News that she cannot afford to buy her medicine which costs her YR 2500 (Dh43) monthly.

“I only buy blood pressure medicine for YR100 (Dh1.7). My husband is unemployed and nobody is willing to help me.”

Maryam Ali, 55, also lives in the stadium. The mother of four sons and four daughters, said that she could not return to Abyan because her house is still ruined.” When the war broke out in Abyan, my house was destroyed and I fled to Aden empty-handed. I used to make a living from keeping flocks of goats and sheep. We will not return until the government compensates us for damage and builds my house.” She thanked donors from UAE, Kuwait and Oman for their aid.

Another woman, who preferred to be known as Um Ahmad, accused her government of leaving the displaced people high and dry.

“The government has left us in the lurch. We are living under desperate conditions. No one asks about us or takes care of us. Our misery is getting worse. We sleep on the ground and sometimes eat rotten food. We cannot afford to buy medicine. We only get aid from the UAE and international organisations like Oxfam.”

Um Ahmad has appealed to the government to bring peace, build electricity grids and drinkable water systems so they can return to their homes.

”I do not mind living under my village’s tree. How do they want us to return when there is no work, police, and judiciary or government offices?” she wondered.

However, the government said that it has spent tens of millions of rials to convince displaced people to return home.

The government’s Executive Enit for Monitoring IDPs in the south has recently said that 1,901 families willingly abandoned 39 schools in Aden and returned to their homes in Abyan.

The financial manager of the unit, Khalid Al Abali told Saba news agency that his unit spent YR28.5m (Dh487,787) on displaced transportation and other kind of aid and trying to convince the remaining 26,000 families to follow suit.

The father of Yousuf, aged 14, was compelled to sell the aid he received to treat his sick son. Yousuf is suffering from hemolytic anaemia which also prevented him from going to school. The infirm and unhappy boy refused to talk to Gulf News.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, said there are 183,978 IDPs from Abyan live in Aden, Abyan, Al Bayda, Lahajj, Shabwah, and Hadramout. As many as 123,334 IDPs from Abyan inhabit schools and stadiums in Aden.

“Some IDPs have started to return to Abyan and there may be the possibility of more returns in the coming months. UNHCR, along with other humanitarian organisations, is helping IDPs who decide to return voluntarily to rebuild their lives in safety and dignity by providing them shelter kits and domestic items.” UNHCR Aden office said.

The office added “21,166 individuals have returned from Aden to areas of origin in Abyan. However, some IDPs do not wish to return until the situation has improved, citing the presence of landmines/UXOs, lack of security and services, loss of livelihood and extensive damage to infrastructure.”