As Yemen’s war drags toward its seventh year, media reports are saturated with stories of suffering. The rapid pace of news cycles often leaves many of these painful stories unfinished; accounts of uplifting outcomes are regularly overshadowed by catastrophe. But such examples of hope, resilience and solidarity deserve coverage too. Yemenis’ humanity repeatedly shines through the most debilitating circumstances and brings people together. The following short profiles shed light on displaced Yemenis who found solace in new homes, thanks to the support and compassion of strangers who lent them a hand in desperate times.
Fatima Bawazir, Mukalla
An estimated four million Yemenis have been forced to flee their homes since the war began. Reporting on the internally displaced poses considerable challenges to journalists. The difficulties range from bureaucratic controls to cultural or psychological hurdles.
Gaining access to refugee camps requires photography and filming permits from security agencies and local authorities, including those in charge of the camps. This is followed by coordination with governmental bodies and humanitarian aid organisations on location. Only then can interviews be set up with people who have fled their homes.
Bassam al-Qadi, a journalist from Aden, faced all these obstacles. While working on an in-depth report on water scarcity in IDP camps amid the coronavirus pandemic, he discovered that filming is sometimes banned for security reasons.
“Some organisations recommend that camp officials prohibit filming and interviews,” he said. “It’s complicated, exhausting, and it takes a tremendous amount of time.” As a result, some journalists either kill the story or consider the results unsatisfactory. Al-Qadi spent months just to complete half the job he set out to do.
Reporting on the internally displaced poses considerable challenges to journalists.”
As a reporter, I faced similar problems. Once all the permits are granted, displaced persons can still refuse to speak to the media, even when their account is a success story. Many displaced Yemenis prefer to stay as far away from cameras as possible, fearing the country’s volatile situation.
“We live in a society that is frustrated by the many conflicts in our environment,” said Mahrous Bahussain, a journalist from Mukalla. “It’s always hard at the beginning of the interview.” That’s why he makes a special effort to put his interviewees at ease and reassure them that all their wishes will be respected. This includes agreeing to conceal their subjects’ names to help ensure their safety and avoid disclosing details that could reveal their identity.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the number of internally displaced people in Yemen reached close to 172,000 in 2020 alone. The International Organisation for Migration’s Displacement Tracking Matrix in Yemen estimates that 39,300 persons were displaced at least once between January 1 and June 26, 2021.
Faiz al-Dhubaibi, Raymah
Like many rural areas, the village of al-Musbahi, about 20 km from the capital of Raymah Governorate, lacked basic infrastructure and work prospects. That’s what initially prompted Abdullah Moqbel Mohammed and his five brothers to resettle in Taiz, where they lived for more than 20 years. But as fighting there intensified, Mohammed, 42, fled to Sana’a with his wife and five children amid the sound of gunfire one night in mid-2016. After a year of unemployment in the Yemeni capital, he decided to return to his ancestral village.
The people of al-Musbahi warmly received Mohammed’s family. One resident, Mahmoud Yahya Mohammed (no relation), even offered his furnished house to Mohammed’s family. He had moved with his own family to Saudi Arabia to work in the furniture and drapery business.
“This is the least I can do for a son of my village who has been displaced by the ongoing war in our country,” he explained.
If we do not show compassion and solidarity, the war will consume us all.”
Moqbel Mohammed and his family have since enjoyed further support, including access to a parcel of agricultural land to farm. Amro, Mohammed’s 18-year-old son, obtained a visa to work as a vehicle-coating technician in Saudi Arabia, a favourite destination of most young men from
Abdullah Moqbel Mohammed is full of gratitude for the good fortune that greeted his return after two decades. “My living conditions have greatly improved,” he said. “I am in a stable situation now, thanks to the support of my people.”
Mahmoud Yahya Mohammed believes it is imperative that Yemenis help one another.
“If we do not show compassion and solidarity,” he said, “the war will consume us all.”
Eslah Saleh, Aden
Khairiya Ahmed, 36, arrived in Aden in 2015 with her two children after fleeing violence in Taiz. Alia al-Salal, 23, escaped bloodshed in nearby Abyan Governorate in 2017. The two women are among roughly 12,000 displaced families absorbed by the port city between 2015 and February this year, according to the Executive Unit for Aden, the government entity responsible for coordinating IDP camps and humanitarian assistance.
Ahmed was employed for a time as a janitor in a mosque, but her modest income didn’t suffice to support her family. The mosque proved a fortuitous workplace, however, because her fortunes changed after meeting a woman named Umm Sidra* through a friend.
Umm Sidra launched the Home Foods Project, a pastry production enterprise, after the war broke out in 2015. The modest bakery, which receives regular orders for parties and other events, is housed in a residential building in the city of Khor Maksar, northeast of Aden.
Ahmed and al-Salal are two of seven displaced Yemeni women who have found work at the Home Foods Project. Al-Salal’s salary helps her father provide for their family of seven. Al-Salal’s salary helps her father provide for their family of seven.
“Knowing people like Umm Sidra has helped us overcome many difficulties,” she said. “She has a big heart, and we love Aden all the more because she treats us so well.”
Ahmed’s earnings from the Home Foods Project support her mother and two children back in Taiz. Her relationship with Umm Sidra transcends work, she said. “We are not only co-workers, but sisters,” she added. Like al-Salal, this opportunity has deepened her appreciation for Aden and its people.
The feelings are mutual, says Umm Sidra, who finds great satisfaction in her work with Ahmed and al-Salal. “My relationship with them is filled with love and respect,” she said. “We have become one family. We celebrate together, and we grieve together.”
*Not her real name; she preferred anonymity for this story.
Mohamed Ali Mahroos, Taiz
Tawfiq Haider, 46, arrived in Taiz two years ago with his family after fleeing the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah in western Yemen, nearly 300 km away.
“We thought we would stay only two or three months before we could go back,” he said. “We miss our home a lot.”
After moving several times, Haider, his wife and three children settled in a neighbourhood where local residents offered him a room and a job as a guard, which offered Haider a measure of stability.
We have become one family.”
Across the street, Yusuf al-Dahay, a grocery store owner, is one of the older residents in the area. At 52, he’s regarded as somewhat of a father figure. Al-Dahay hired Haider as a vendor for a modest salary. “Tawfiq is a good person,” al-Dahay said, “I’m delighted I can help him, and I’ll continue to do so as long as I can.”
Every morning, the two men sit together to sip tea and talk shop. Haider is grateful for his fortunate circumstances amid displacement. “Things have changed so much since I was forced to leave Hodeidah,” he said. “I’m happy to finally feel at home and to be treated like I belong here.”
Haider’s family is one of 45,000 families that Taiz has sheltered since the war began, according to the Executive Unit for displaced people in Taiz Governorate.
Samar Abdullah, Sana’a
Sulaiman Ali, 35, lost his brother, cousin and their children in airstrikes when the war in Yemen broke out. In July 2015, he and his wife, three children, and extended family were forced to flee from Razeh, a district in Sa’dah Governorate, nearly 250 km to the Yemeni capital. Ali is one of more than 200,000 displaced Yemenis who have relocated to Sana’a in the last six years. “The war robbed us of a home and a chance to work,” Ali said.
In Sana’a, Ali found employment in the spice trade with his nephew, who had rented a corner within a supermarket. His competence, experience and dedication enabled him to continue working eleven hours a day, even after the nephew’s lease expired.
I hope the war and our displacement will end.”
Ali blends spices and classifies them according to specific recipes before packaging them for sale. He also supervises and trains the rest of the shop staff.
Mohammed al-Jamali, the store personnel manager, explained that his business aims to integrate displaced Yemenis into Sana’a’s workforce. They make up 20% of the supermarket employees.
To avoid possible negative health effects of prolonged exposure to the intense aromas of spices, the supermarket owner, Yahya al-Akou, chose a well-ventilated corner for Ali to work. Wearing a protective mask, he has introduced innovative spice blends to the supermarket and forged a deep friendship with al-Akou.
But the relative comfort and security of living in Sana’a still takes a stressful toll. The cost of living is much higher than in Razeh, near the Saudi border.
“I’m exhausted by all the expenses, such as rent, water and electricity,” he said. “I hope the war and our displacement will end.”
Zain Alaabdain Ali, Marib
Marib receives the highest number of displaced Yemenis. Their plight has weighed heavily on one of the city elders. “They had to leave their homes and property,” said Sheikh Ahmed Mubarak Azban, 90. “We must stand by them.”
Tawfiq al-Thawabi, 33, fled his home in Ibb, nearly 350 km away. He was looking for a place to shelter in one of Marib’s 140 displacement camps with his wife and two children when he met Azban and told him he and his family needed a place to live.
In this first encounter, Azban took al-Thawabi to a plot of land, pointed to a section of it and said simply, “Take this piece of land, build a house, and cultivate the soil so you can feed your family.”
The property, about five km outside Marib, measures around 300 square meters. Within a few months, al-Thawabi had fifteen neighbours – Sheikh Ahmed Mubarak Azban extended the same invitation to other displaced Yemenis. About 400 of them now live on Azban’s property. Some have built mud houses; others have erected tents. No one pays any rent.
“The reward I hope for is from God,” Azban said.
I am tied to the earth here.”
Early last year, when Azban noticed al-Thawabi had a green thumb, he offered him another plot of land measuring half a square kilometre.
“I started with onions,” said al-Thawabi. “They were expensive, but they had a good yield.” He later planted coriander, watercress, zucchini and other vegetables, which also grew plentifully.
Al-Thawabi and Azban have since opened a business together. “Tawfiq looks after the land and the agriculture, and he’s a great partner,” said Azban.
Al-Thawabi is delighted to feel a sense of belonging to the community and the land.
“I cultivate the soil to earn a living,” he said. “I am tied to the earth here. How could life be better?”