Al Maafer, Yemen // A year ago, the intractable battle for Taez city reached the Wazeyah district on its south-western outskirts and Abdulwasse Hassan decided that it was finally time to abandon his home and try to find somewhere safe for his family, away from the shelling and sniper fire that had killed some of his neighbours.
Mr Hassan, 35, and his wife and five children quickly packed whatever they could fit into a few bags and walked for five hours through the rugged mountains to Al Mashawela, another area on the periphery of the city where displaced families, with no help from the authorities or aid groups, had turned a local school into a makeshift camp.
The Hassan family made do, but life was difficult living with more than 20 other families crowding into the school’s empty classrooms and halls. Food was delivered daily by charitable people and some NGOs, but there was never enough and no medicine or doctors to treat the ill.
“We did not care about myself, we were worried about our children, who needed care and good food, but things became worse,” Mr Hassan said.
He hoped the fighting would end quickly and they would be able to return to their house and all of their belongings, no matter who controlled the area. They did not know that a year later they would still be living in the school and that their suffering would deepen, the war impossible to escape.
Last month pro-government forces liberated Mokha city, forcing Houthi fighters to flee towards Hodeidah province. As they retreated, the rebels opened new fronts in the areas surrounding Mokha, including Al Kadaha, a road that links Taez province and Hodeidah.
Soon the fighting reached Mashawela, and rockets and artillery rounds landed near the school as Houthi forces targeted pro-government forces in the area. Once again, the Hassan family fled, this time farther out into the rocky, arid wilderness of Al Maafer district.
“I did not like the life at the camp and was hoping to return to my house, but now I hope to return the camp, where there is at least a building that protects us from cold weather and rains,” Mr Hassan said. “My life is going from bad to worse, and I do not know what will come after this temporary tent.”
The Hassan family and the 52 other families who had been living in the school now scrape by in a shanty encampment of tents built from sticks and whatever scraps of cloth and plastic people had or could find. The families sometimes crowd into the rudimentary cinder block mosque for shelter, and they draw water from its well.
All of them are in dire need of basic necessities — proper shelter from the elements, food, clean water, medicine. No aid agencies have reached the area, and it is unlikely that they even know the camp exists.
“A charitable man provided us with plastic sheets to make this temporary tent,” Mr Hassan said, as he sat with his young son and daughter, ages 11 and 9. “But this tent cannot resist the rains, and we need a proper camp as an urgent help.”
In a nearby tent, Fardous Al Raboei, in her 30s and a widower, also fled the war from Al Kadaha area with her four children towards Al Maafer district as the battle for the Red Sea coast intensified in January. “Our life is the most important thing,” she said. “I left my belongings in my house, but I am not so sorrowful about them because my life and my children is more important than some belongings.”
She said that when she was in her home, charitable people used to help her get by as she was a single woman and it was difficult to find work outside. Now she does not know how she will take care of her children. Her damaged tent needs to be repaired, and barely protects her family from the rain. But she has no means.
“All of my relatives are displaced people in different areas, and they could not take me with them because I have four children, so I came here with some of my neighbours who have other tents,” Ms Al Raboei said.
The manager of the government’s social affairs office in Al Maafer district, Adel Al Moshamer, told The National that, “there are more than 700 families that arrived in Al Maafer district, fleeing from the coastal battle, and most of them do not have camps to live in and they live in temporary tents that cannot last for long.”
He added: “more than 2,000 families arrived to Al Maafer district since the beginning of the war and I hope that organisations Can provide the displaced people with shelter and aid, as the families are suffering from the cold weather.”
Updated: February 22, 2017 04:00 AM