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Last stop Khamer: stories of exile in Yemen

06 Sep 2019

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

Children in the Dahadh camp in Khamer, Yemen. © Agnes Varraine-Leca / MSF

These displaced families have joined many others, already living in exile in Khamer for several years after fleeing fighting. In Dahadh camp, nearly 3,500 people are now living in precarious conditions, with limited access to medical care and water.

Over the past years, MSF teams have distributed emergency kits to people in Dahadh camp on multiple occasions, and ran mobile clinics to provide medical care until our access to the camp was no longer permitted. In July 2016, teams also provided residents with treatments for scabies.

Ahmad is living with his wife and his three children near the mosque in the old city of Khamer, Yemen. © Agnes Varraine-Leca / MSF

Two-thirds of the Dahadh camp population arrived in 2015, at the beginning of the war. They fled the massive aerial bombardment by the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition (SELC), over the governorate of Saada, 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, this 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 inside the city in July 2018 and found shelter in Dahadh camp. She remembers the journey: 12 endless hours  travelling the 300 kilometres between Hodeidah and Khamer –  and the fear she felt when she heard the sounds of fighting approaching her home. The couple now live at the far end of the camp, in a tent, far from the sea.

Fatima married a fisherman and lived together in Hodeidah, Yemen until the offensive on the city started in June 2018. She was very afraid for her husband’s life, as she heard stories about fishermen being targeted and killed. In July they decided to leav

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 the governorate of Amran, 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 is supporting a field hospital in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. The same hospital was partially destroyed by a coalition air strike on 15 August, 2016, which killed 19 people. Two years later, in June 2018, an SELC airstrike also destroyed a cholera treatment centre newly constructed by MSF in Abs.

Mohammed Hamoud is an oud player living in the Dahadh camp in Yemen. © Agnes Varraine-Leca / MSF

By March, more than 5,300 families had managed to flee the district, but thousands more were trapped in the areas affected by fighting with no possibility of shelter. According to the United Nations, there are an estimated 3.65 million displaced people in Yemen.