On the 10 April, the same day the first Covid-19 case in Yemen was confirmed, Muhsen Ahmed Mahyoub was fleeing his home. 

Muhsen’s home village of Hareeb was a small and a peaceful one, not far from Sana’a city. On the farm he had inherited from his father, Muhsen kept goats and sheep, and planted corn, barley and wheat. He held on to this quiet life through five years of escalating violence. Even when a landmine took both his legs in 2016, Muhsen still steadfastly continued farming, thanks to the help of his children. The farm was his life, and his only source of income. How would his family eat, if they left?

But on 10 April, one day after a unilateral ceasefire was announced, the war finally forced him to flee.

First came the gunfire in the distance. When it grew closer, Muhsen called his wife and children together, and quickly rounded up the goats and sheep. Around him, other families were doing the same. 

Muhsen hired a small pickup, loading his animals in the back, and struck out for the desert near Marib city. Here, a barren stretch of sandy land has in the last four months become home to 500 families from around Marib and Nihm.
 
It is known as Al-Swaidah camp, though there is nothing to mark it as such: no running water, no toilets, no electricity. It is just there.
 
Muhsen’s family assembled a tent for themselves from iron pipes and plastic sheets. But despite these conditions, Muhsen is just glad to be safe. “We felt we were the luckiest in the world when we arrived.”

Some families still have their goats and sheep with them. Muhsen has sold his animals to buy food and other basic items. “In my village, I used to eat from my farm and sell the rest. But here we are dependent on organizations to help,” he says. “It is true that we can get some food from WFP, but it isn’t enough.”
 
Muhsen is thankful to those organizations which have started to provide mattresses, water and food. But there is so much they still need, including latrines and proper shelter. Storms and floods have damaged several tents in the last few months.

“Before the war, I used to wake up before dawn and walk to the fields and work until ten. Then I would walk to the market to buy some things, and return to have my lunch with family. We sat together in the afternoon to chew Qat and talk—usually about farming. Nowadays, we are thinking all the time how to get food, how to get water and how long we can stay here.”

Muhsen has heard about Covid-19 but doesn’t consider it a threat for displaced people, as they have other, more pressing, worries. None of the displaced people in the camp have been taking any measures against Covid-19.

He has not heard of the ceasefire declaration. He has seen the families still arriving from surrounding areas, fleeing the ongoing fighting. And so far, the news from his hometown is that it has not stopped. “The battles are still ongoing, so we can’t return.”

Photo: Hassan Al-Homaidi/NRC
Jemen

Tvunget på flukt under “korona-våpenhvile”

10. april, samme dag som det første tilfellet av Covid-19 ble bekreftet i Jemen, flyktet Muhsen Ahmed Mahyoub og de syv barna hans fra skuddveksling i landsbyen de bodde i. Midt i pandemien ble de jaget ut i ørkenen, hvor 500 familier nå bor i spinkle telt uten rennende vann eller skikkelig toalett.

To uker senere, i en annen del av Jemen, var Ali Ibrahim også på flukt for livet. Åtte luftangrep rammet landsbyen hans i Hajjah-guvernementet i løpet av én morgen.

– Fetteren min prøvde å flykte fra gården sammen med familien sin, men de ble truffet av et av flyangrepene. Tre av dem ble drept, deriblant en baby som bare var noen måneder gammel. Fire andre ble hardt skadet, forteller han oss.

Ali og de syv barna er nå stuet sammen i teltet til en annen familie som har flyktet, i Hajjahs Abs-distriktet. Det er uholdbare forhold for å forhindre spredning av Covid-19, som Verdens helseorganisasjon anslår kan smitte så mye som 55 prosent av befolkningen i Jemen.

Slik jobber flyktninghjelpen for å hindre spredning av viruset i Jemen

Oppfordringen om våpenhvile ble ignorert

Det skulle ikke vært slik. For to måneder siden, 23. mars, oppfordret FNs generalsekretær til en global våpenhvile. Bakgrunnen for oppfordringen var økningen i antallet koronasmittede, og det var avgjørende at verden kunne bruke alle ressurser på å bekjempe pandemien som spredte seg raskt.
Det var et tegn til håp. Dessverre ble ikke oppfordringen fulgt.

Bare i Jemen har minst 24.000 mennesker, som Ali og Muhsen, måttet flykte fra kamphandlinger etter at generalsekretæren kom med oppfordringen. Den Saudi-ledede koalisjonen innførte en ensidig våpenhvile den 9. april, men heller ikke den har satt en stopper for krigshandlingene og de forferdelige menneskelige kostnadene.

Jaget ut i ørkenen

Tidligere var landsbyen Al-Bizah, hvor Muhsen bodde, et fredelig sted. Han arvet gården etter faren sin og drev med geiter og sauer og dyrket mais, bygg og hvete. Han fortsatte å drive gården gjennom fem år med stadige økende voldshandlinger. Selv etter at han fikk begge beina sprengt bort av en landmine i 2016, fortsatte Muhsen å drive gården, takket være hjelp fra barna sine. Gården var livet hans og den eneste inntektskilden han hadde. Hvordan skulle familien klare å skaffe mat hvis de ble tvunget til å flykte?

Dagen etter at den ensidige våpenhvilen ble kunngjort, hørte han skuddveksling i det fjerne. Da skuddene kom nærmere, samlet familien sammen dyrene sine og flyktet ut i ørkenen. De endte opp i en uformell bosetning nær byen Marib, der flere hundre familier har samlet seg de siste fire månedene.

Al-Swaidah camp, though there is nothing to mark it as such: no running water, no toilets, no electricity. It is home for around 500 displaced families from Marib and Nihm.

Photo: Hassan Al-Homaidi/NRC
Les billedteksten Ørkenområdet kjent som Al-Swaidah-leiren, er nå hjemmet til 500 familier fra områdene rundt Nihm og Marib, til tross for at det ikke finnes rennende vann, toaletter eller strøm. Foto: Hassan Al-Homaidi / Flyktninghjelpen

Bosetningen er kjent som Al-Swaidah-leiren, selv om den ikke har fasiliteter som vanligvis finnes i flyktningleirer: det er ikke rennende vann, ingen toaletter og ingen strøm. Muhsen forteller at ingen har iverksatt tiltak mot Covid-19 her.

"Kampene pågår fortsatt, så vi kan ikke flytte tilbake."
- Muhsen

Muhsens familie har laget teltet sitt selv av jernrør og presenninger. Tilgang på mat er en konstant bekymring, men Muhsen er bare glad for å være trygg. Fortsatt ankommer det nye familier fra områdene rundt, som flykter fra de pågående kampene. Og meldingene som kommer fra Muhsens hjemby er ikke gode.

– Kampene pågår fortsatt, så vi kan ikke flytte tilbake, sier Muhsen.

Flyangrepene fortsetter

Tidlig 6. mai, tre uker etter at Muhsens familie flyktet, rammet flyangrep Ali Ibrahims storfamilie på gården der de bodde og jobbet.

Ali har jobbet som gårdsarbeider i hjembyen Al-Jar i Hajjah-guvernementet det meste av livet, og dyrket grønnsaker, som tomater og løk. Natt til 5. mai hørte han krigsfly. Bombene falt neste morgen. Ali ble vitne til at familien til søskenbarnet ble truffet, mindre enn 100 meter unna. Tre av dem ble drept.

Det kom flere angrep. I kaoset som fulgte, prøvde Ali å hjelpe til.

– Vi så mennesker bli drept foran øynene våre. Jeg tok med meg barna mine og de skadede til et sykehus, forteller han.

De overlevende flyktet i det de gikk og sto i til nabobyen Al-Shaqaf.

Despite hearing of other families fleeing, Ali had not thought it would happen to him. But only two weeks ago, early on 6 May, airstrikes hit his extended family on the farm where they worked.

Just like his father before him, Ali Ibrahim had spent most of his life as a farm labourer, in his home village of Al-Jar. 
 
It was hard work but peaceful, planting vegetables like tomatoes, onion and garlic. Most of Ali’s extended family worked alongside him on the same farm. Though his income was only YR1,000 (less than two dollars) a day, it was enough to support his own family of seven children.
 
“My brothers and I have been working on the farm for 15 years. We built oshas (straw huts) on the farm and we lived there, as we spent most of our time on the farm,” Ali says.

The war first intruded on them in 2015, when the price of fuel doubled, forcing the farmer Ali worked to stop all work for some months. Ali was also aware that families from other areas were fleeing their homes, but didn’t think it would happen to him.
 
“During the last few months, many families from neighboring areas fled their homes towards Al-Shaqaf village, after battles reached their area. But our area was safe.”

This changed one evening. On Wednesday 6 May, warplanes started to fly over Ali’s village. He and his family didn’t sleep that night, listening to it.
 
It was morning when the first bombs fell. From less than a hundred metres away, Ali saw his cousin’s hut hit.
 
“My cousin tried to flee the farm with his family, but an airstrike hit them… Three were killed, including a few-months-old child. And four others were badly injured.”

Other strikes followed. “Eight airstrikes hit the village and the farm in few hours, and almost all residents of the village fled their houses.”

In the ensuing chaos, Ali tried to help the injured. “We saw the deaths in front of us. I took my children and the injured people to Al-Jar clinic.” Then he fled with his family to nearby Al-Shaqaf, with only the clothes they were wearing.

“We didn’t take anything with us as we left on foot. Even the dead bodies we didn’t take. Some brave people returned the second day to bury them…. It would have been death and nothing is better than life.”

Cattle were also hit by the airstrikes. No one dared to stay. 
Ali’s children were witnesses to the burnt bodies of their friends and relatives. Some cried, while others were too shocked. They have difficult sleeping now. 

“No one can believe what happened for us and we didn’t imagine it before. I met many displaced families but I wasn’t aware they witnessed such atrocious moments.”

When his family arrived in Al-Shaqaf, they found other displaced families living in tents made of plastic sheets and wood. “As soon as we arrived here, a new journey of suffering started as we don’t have money and we don’t have furniture. But we are lucky that the displaced people [already] here welcomed us.”

Ali’s family now live inside the tent of another family, who fled their house last year. Despite being in dire circumstances themselves, this family shares food, water and everything they have with Ali, who has no money to even buy a plastic sheet to set up a new tent.

“We are in need of everything, but shelter and food is priority as we don’t want to stay in others’ tents for a long time.”
Ali doesn’t know anything about the unilateral ceasefire, nor about Covid-19 and what kind of danger it represents for displaced people.
 
“I’m illiterate man and all I know is that warplanes targeted us and forced us to leave our houses, and we lost our source of incomes in this holy month,” he added.
 
Ali hopes that he can return his village and resume his work but he feels that is impossible now. 
“The best thing was when we would wake up early in the morning and water the vegetables. And after an hour all the farmers would sit together to have their group breakfast in the farm. Those days can’t come again, as some of my relatives and colleague were killed by the airstrikes.”
 
He wanted to send a message to the whole world about his situation: “There is nothing worse than seeing relatives became burnt bodies and hearing the screaming of children all the time, so try to imagine yourselves in our situation and stop the war on us.”

Photo: Anwar Abdu/NRC
Les billedteksten Ali Ibrahim står utenfor teltet som en annen internt fordrevet familie har delt med ham og de syv barna hans. Foto: Anwar Abdu / Flyktninghjelpen

Alis familie har flyttet inn i teltet til en annen familie som flyktet i fjor. Til tross for at denne familien selv er i en vanskelig situasjon, deler de alt de har med Ali, som ikke en gang har penger til å kjøpe presenning for å sette opp et nytt telt.

Ali har ikke hørt om den ensidige våpenhvilen, og heller ikke om Covid-19.

Jeg er analfabet og alt jeg vet er at vi ble angrepet av krigsfly og tvunget til å flykte fra husene våre, fortalte han oss.

“… prøv å sette dere inn i vår situasjon og stopp krigen mot oss.”
- Ali

– Det beste var når vi sto opp tidlig om morgenen og vannet grønnsakene. Og en time senere satt alle bøndene sammen og spiste felles frokost på gården. De dagene kommer ikke igjen. Det er ikke noe som er verre enn å se familiemedlemmer bli til brente kropper og høre skrik fra barn. Prøv å sette dere inn i vår situasjon og stopp krigen mot oss.

En dobbel ulykke

Våre ansatte som jobber i områder nær frontlinjene, er vitne til at folk fremdeles blir tvunget til å flykte, i en tid der det globale helserådet er at man skal være hjemme.

– Hver dag blir mennesker drevet på flukt og det er sivilbefolkningen som rammes, sier Zayed Mohamed Ali, som jobber for Flyktninghjelpen i Hodeidah

Over 3,5 millioner mennesker er allerede på flukt i Jemen på grunn av den brutale krigen som har vart i fem år. De har søkt tilflukt i midlertidig husly som ofte er uegnet som boliger: i leirer, ødelagte hus eller overfylte i offentlige bygninger. Covid-19 sprer seg raskt over hele landet, og dette er en stor trussel mot folkehelsen.

Håpet er at kampene skal stanse og at de avbrutte fredssamtalene skal starte opp igjen. Så langt har de stridende partene ikke benyttet denne muligheten. Siden oppfordringen om våpenhvile, har det blitt dobbelt så mange angrep på helsestasjoner, sykehus og skoler. Antallet luftangrep i Jemen har økt, og nivået på granatangrep er fortsatt høyt, noe som fører til sivile tap og skader.

Kampene må stoppe, og det må skje umiddelbart. Ellers er det de mest utsatte, som Ali og Muhsen, som blir hardest rammet.

***

Jemen er ikke det eneste landet som er berørt av pågående konflikt. Til tross for oppfordringen til en global våpenhvile, viser en ny rapport fra Flyktninghjelpen at konflikt og vold har drevet anslagsvis 661.000 mennesker på flukt i 19 land mellom 23. mars og 15. mai. Her er hovedfunnene i rapporten.