Sa’ada’s IDPs left to live with the 'bitterness of being away from home’
Sadeq Al-Wesabi (author), Sadeq Al-Wesabi (photographer)
Um Ali's deteriorating eyesight is clouded by tears she cannot hold back as she recounts the story of her son who was arrested by Houthi militants in Sa'ada governorate more than three years ago.
“I was screaming, asking the armed kidnappers not to take my son,” said Um Ali in heartrending tones. “I held my son’s clothes and cried bitterly as the kidnappers grabbed him violently. My son told me he would stab himself if I didn’t stop crying.”
Now living as an Internally Displaced Person (IDP) in the Dares area of Sana'a, in a two-room home with nine other family members, who were also driven from Sa'ada due to conflicts with the Houthis, Um Ali has spent the last three years paying people to try to risk a return to Sa'ada and find out information about her son.
“I still dream about him. My heart tells me that he is OK,” she said through tears.
In Sana'a, there are now thousands of displaced people seeking refuge, who were forced out of their homes in Sa'ada by Houthi conflicts in the North, according to human rights groups.
The Houthis are an armed group of Zaidi Shiites that operate outside the state and are known to be ideologically driven. They have taken control of much of the North, displacing many families in their quest for dominance over local tribes and the central state.
Many IDPs have said they have two choices: either return to “Houthis Hell” or deal with the harsh conditions of starting a new life in Sana’a and bear “the bitterness of being away from home.”
Khaled Al-Dhali now rents a two-room apartment in Sana’a after his house in Sa’ada was allegedly blown up by Houthi insurgents.
As he played video on a simple mobile device of his home smoking after the explosion, he said, “How can I return to a place where Houthis only implement the law of the jungle?”
‘Displaced while barefoot’
“We were kicked out of our home barefoot,” said Um Ayman, another IDP who has been living in Sana'a since March 2011.
IDPs all across the city recount with horror the day they were forced out of their home due to ideological clashes with the armed group.
“Houthis don’t accept the people who are opposed to their ideology,” said Fahd Abu Taleb, an IDP, who said Sa’ada was turned into a battlefield by militants.
“They keep suppressing, displacing and killing them,” he said.
In a report carried out by the Wethaq Foundation for Civil Orientation, a local non-profit, they found thousands of human rights violations committed against civilians in Sa’ada and Hajja governorate by Houthi insurgents.
“When we visited Sa’ada we found secret prisons, displaced villagers, intimidation of locals, and interference in private affairs," said Najeeb Al-Sa’adi, the head of the organization.
“The violations mentioned in the report are less than 25 percent of all violations,” he said. “Houthis impose media isolation, and that’s why it’s difficult for others to find out about their violations.”
Mohammed Abdul-Salam, the official spokesman for the Houthi Movement, refutes allegations like the above.
Speaking to the Yemen Times, he said those who fled Sa’ada had problems with locals as they were receiving money from the former regime to fight against the Houthis.
He said the IDPs can come back to Sa’ada, "provided they don’t make any trouble."
“Who are the people we prevented from entering the governorate?” he asked, pointing out that people who are known to oppose the Houthis, such as Salafis are living safely in the governorate.
Abu Abdullah, head of the Houthis' Equity and Grievances Association, also denied attacks on civilians, saying that IDPs have harmed their community by “creating a tribal alliance to fight the Houthis.”
With little chance of returning home for fear of their lives, IDPs in Sana'a criticize the state for not helping them.
“My property was confiscated and plundered,” said Al-Dhali. “My only store, house and car were damaged by Houthis. I’ve nothing now.”
Hooria Mashhour, the minister of human rights, told the Yemen Times that “There is a big challenge to meet the needs of these IDPs.”
She said the government prioritizes the Sa’ada IDPs' issue and cooperates with the international community to provide them with basic necessities such as accommodation, food and medicine.
“Unfortunately, the issue of Sa’ada's IDPs still exists and about 250,000 IDPs are still living in camps because their homes have been demolished,” she said.
In the meantime, IDPs are left to cope with the improbability that they or loved ones will be reunited in Sa'ada anytime soon.
Hanging onto the hope that her son will eventually be released by his captors, Um Ali said, “I don’t think about anything but seeing my son again.”