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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 July 2018

Even humble fishermen were not spared by Houthis

The Iran-backed group would continuously clash with the fishermen, official says

A young man rebuilds a boat in Al Khokha, Hodeidah, Yemen. Ali Mahmood for The National
A young man rebuilds a boat in Al Khokha, Hodeidah, Yemen. Ali Mahmood for The National

In Yemen's port city of Hodeidah, residents are known for their humbleness and simplicity. Politics is not something in which they generally engage and yet they have paid the highest price at the hands of the Houthi rebels.

Omar Duoballa, director of the fish landing centre in Al Khokha, said more than 20 fishermen were killed by the Iran-backed group since 2014 in Hodeidah, adding that the rebels and the fishermen would constantly argue.

“At least 20 fishermen, most of whom reside in either Al Khokha or Al Faza were killed by the Houthis since the war erupted,” he told The National.

“As the rebels took over areas to the south of Hodeidah, they began harassing the fishermen to either ask them to pay illegal taxes or to support their war by smuggling in weapons for them.

“When the fishermen refused the requests, they became targets.”

Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for most residents in Hodeidah, whose port the Houthi rebels have been using to smuggle weapons provided by Iran.

In 2015, Mr Duoballa said, the Houthis asked a group of seven fishermen in Al Khokha to transport goods for them to Al Faza.

“Our colleagues refused the Houthi request, and an hour later, the militia launched a mortar shell at them while they were fishing and killed them,” he said.

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Saeed Al Hadi, 60, a fisherman from Al Kataba, said that the Houthi rebels have made the lives of fishermen full of “suffering and pain”.

“Many fishermen were killed in cold blood. They were either shot by the Houthis or killed from sea mines planted by the rebels,” he told The National.

“Other fishermen have lost all their equipment and fled the coasts of Hodeidah to Aden and Mukalla in the southern provinces.”

Mr Al Hadi was gearing up to start fishing again after Yemeni government forces — backed by an Arab coalition — liberated from the Houthis the southern areas of Hodeidah.

“The Houthis were forced to leave the area after being defeated, but they left behind memories of horrible tragedies,” he said. “They killed more than 20 fishermen, most of them fathers, and destroyed more than 40 boats. They also destroyed the market where we used to exhibit our daily catch.”

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Omar Homadi, the owner of a boat manufacturing company in Al Khokha, just recently re-opened his factory after the Houthis destroyed it and the equipment inside.

“I lost millions of rials setting up my business, and it was turned into rubble within minutes,” he said. “The important thing now is that we are looking to the future and the rebels have left. Their presence was a nightmare.”

A section of Omar Homadi's boat manufacturing company that was destroyed by a Houthi missile in 2016. Ali Mahmood for The National
A section of Omar Homadi's boat manufacturing company that was destroyed by a Houthi missile in 2016. Ali Mahmood for The National

The coast of Al Khokha was crowded this week as dozens of fishermen were busy repairing their equipment to resume their jobs. Meanwhile, a team of builders were constructing a new fish landing centre, which is funded by the UAE’s Emirates Red Crescent (ERC).

“The ERC has gone above and beyond to support the fishermen in Al Khokha and has, other than funding the new centre, provided a number of fishermen with new boats,” Mr Duoballa said.

A picture of the new fish landing centre in Al Khokha, which is being funded by the ERC. Ali Mahmood for The National
A picture of the new fish landing centre in Al Khokha, which is being funded by the ERC. Ali Mahmood for The National