Yemenis who fled battle for Hodeidah struggle to survive

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© Reuters. People displaced from the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah sit outside an a host family's house where they live on the outskirts of Sanaa© Reuters. People displaced from the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah sit outside an a host family’s house where they live on the outskirts of Sanaa

By Mohammed Ghobari

ADEN (Reuters) – For days, Amal would pull her four children back from the windows each time Apache (NYSE:) helicopters attacked the rooftop snipers in her neighborhood south of Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah.

Eventually the fighting got too much so the family fled the al-Tahita district to seek shelter in the heavily-defended city center.

Amal, who declined to give her last name, is one of thousands of Yemenis displaced by a Saudi-led coalition offensive launched on June 12 to take control of the Red Sea port city from the Iran-aligned Houthis.

“Rockets were falling constantly … Most families have left their homes because they are afraid of being killed,” she told Reuters by telephone.

“Houthi fighters were stationed on rooftops of buildings and in the alleyways and coalition helicopters would attack them.”

The United Nations fears the offensive on Hodeidah, whose port is a lifeline for millions of Yemenis, risks exacerbating a humanitarian crisis in which 8.4 million people are believed to be on the verge of starvation.

Many Yemenis who have fled their homes and farms in and around Hodeidah to head north to the Houthi-held capital Sanaa or to safer areas along the western coast and the southern port city of Aden say they are struggling to survive.

In Sanaa, some families from Hodeidah have only been able to find shelter in crumbling one-room cement structures with no running water or furniture and have no source of income.

“We are in bad shape here … Our men have no jobs, they can’t find work,” said Khairiya Shou’y.

Women squatted over a fire outside to boil milk and cook chicken skin as children played in the dirt. Inside the rooms, families sit on a sole mattress, blankets or on the floor.

“We got here and didn’t get anything, there are no organizations (to help), nothing,” said Abdulrahman Fare, adding that this shelter had been provided by a fellow tribesman.

The U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a Hodeidah situation report published on July 4 that more than 121,000 people have been displaced since June 1.

(For a graphic showing Yemen’s war, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2JWQeyv)

TOUGH CONDITIONS

In the port of Khokha on the western coast, coalition forces have set up more than 300 tents to house the displaced. Women gather palm leaves to carve out some privacy for their families while children play outside under the scorching sun. 

“The assistance we are receiving is not enough. We have elderly people with us, there are people who have special needs but treatment is not available” said Ali. “We had no choice but to leave our homes and we hope the war ends so we can return.”

World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told a U.N. briefing in Geneva on Tuesday that in addition to concerns about cholera and diphtheria, Hodeidah governorate has one of the highest malnutrition rates in the country.

The Western-backed coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015 to unseat the Houthis, who hold the most populated areas of Yemen, and restore the exiled government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, which has a presence in Aden.

The coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has pledged a swift operation to seize Hodeidah’s air and sea ports without entering the city center in an attempt to cut off the Houthi’s main supply line and force the movement to the negotiating table.

The alliance has made little progress in the offensive and has announced a halt to military operations to give a chance for U.N. efforts to resume peace talks between the warring sides.

The foreign minister of Hadi’s government submitted a letter to U.N. Secretary General Antonia Guterres on Wednesday, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, to ask the world body to condemn Houthi actions in Hodeidah.

Khaled Alyemany accused the Houthis of planting mines and placing heavy weapons and “sniper nests” in residential areas.

Both sides have been criticized by aid and rights groups in the three-year war that has killed more than 10,000 people. The coalition has come under scrutiny for airstrikes that have often hit civilian areas, although it denies doing so intentionally.

A man living in Zubaid area south of Hodeidah is waiting for the fighting to end. “We don’t think we can survive this, but we have nowhere to go,” he said.