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Last stop Khamer: Stories of exile in Yemen

Children play in the streets of Khamer. Yemen 2019 © Agnes Varraine-Leca/MSF
Children play in the streets of Khamer. Yemen 2019 © Agnes Varraine-Leca/MSF

Since the end of March, heavy fighting has intensified in Yemen’s Hajjah governorate. The conflict between Ansar Allah troops and forces loyal to President Hadi, backed by the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition (SELC), has displaced thousands of people. Some of them have sought safety in Khamer, in the neighboring governorate of Amran, where Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams provide medical and surgical care.

These displaced families join many others who have already been living in exile in Khamer for several years. In Dahadh camp, nearly 3,500 people displaced by conflict are now living in precarious conditions, with limited access to medical care and water.

MSF teams have distributed emergency kits to people in Dahadh camp on multiple occasions over the past few years, and also ran mobile clinics providing medical care until access to the camp was revoked. In July 2016, teams also treated residents during an outbreak of scabies.

Two-thirds of the people living in Dahadh camp arrived in 2015, at the beginning of the war, after fleeing massive aerial bombardment by the SELC in Saada governorate, an Ansar Allah stronghold. Nearly a quarter of all recorded coalition air strikes have hit Saada since the beginning of the conflict, according to the monitoring group Yemen Data Project. Declared a hostile zone by the coalition in 2015, it is the most heavily bombed governorate in Yemen.

In June 2018, the coalition’s offensive against the city of Hodeidah resulted in a new wave of displaced people crossing into Amran governorate. Fatima and her husband, a fisherman working on the Red Sea, fled fighting and bombing in the city in July 2018 and found shelter in Dahadh. The couple spent 12 perilous hours traveling the 300 kilometers [about 186 miles] between Hodeidah and Khamer.

In early 2019, the intensification of fighting in Hajjah governorate, in the north of the country, led to another wave of population displacement. In March, more than 20,000 people were uprooted by the conflicts in the north of Abs and Amran governorate, adding to the thousands of families already in exile.

The most violent fighting broke out near Abs, a town near the Saudi border, where MSF supports a field hospital in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. The same hospital was partially destroyed by a coalition air strike on August 15, 2016, which killed 19 people. Two years later, in June 2018, an SELC airstrike also destroyed a newly constructed MSF cholera treatment center newly constructed in Abs.

Since last spring, Ahmad has lived with his wife and three children in the ruins of an old house near the Khamer mosque. The family comes from Hajjah governorate, from which they fled in April. A former trader, Ahmad lost everything in the fighting and bombing that affected Kuchar, a mountainous area about 50 kilometers [some 31 miles] from the Saudi border. By March, more than 5,300 families had fled the district, but thousands more were trapped in the areas affected by fighting with no possibility of refuge.

According to the United Nations, there are an estimated 3.65 million displaced people in Yemen.

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