Covid-19 is deepening the crisis in Yemen – Reaction – Reaction

The suffering of theYemencontinues along with an unjust siege that has already lasted for six long and bitter years. The Saudi-led coalition has caused much destruction in Yemenis lives, gravely damaging their living conditions and driving them into poverty. TheYemenconflict was recently ranked by the United Nations as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

This hardship is not only experienced by native Yemenis, but also by the African refugees coming from outsideYemens borders in search of asylum. Tragically, these refugees do not realise the extent of the catastrophic situation inYemen. Most of them think that they will be welcomed and will enjoy more rights than in other countries.

These refugees find, to their disappointment, that the Yemenis themselves are the ones who are looking for hope and for survival in the most dire of circumstances.

They arrive in a land torn between theYemenigovernment, backed by Saudi Arabia, and the Ansar Allah group, which holds the capital city, Sanaa, a conflict which has made it impossible for the two rival governments to contain and respond to Covid-19.

This long war goes hand in hand with the deterioration of the health infrastructure in theYemen, a weak national economy, and the spread of many curable diseases, such as dengue fever and cholera. The coronavirus is not the only health threat toYemens population, which has been constantly battling against pestilence and famine since the escalation of war in March 2015.

Yemenhas been exhausted due to the long years of war. And at a time when United Nations humanitarian agencies have reduced their programmes in the country, the health system has also collapsed. This has created the perfect storm for a devastating coronavirus epidemic, which is yet another hardship heaped upon a people who have already known too much.

Despite this, many refugees continue to flee from the desperate situation in their home countries. Thousands of African migrants and asylum seekers continue to flow into the country via illegal border crossings by land, sea and air.

Statistics of the International Organisation for Migration say that more than 150,000 migrants arrived inYemenin 2018, an increase of nearly 50% compared to 2017, and according to the same organisation more than 107,000 migrants arrived inYemenilands since the beginning of last year. A great number of these came from countries with substantial Muslim populations such as Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan. Figures from by the United Nations show that Somali refugees represent roughly 90% of refugees and asylum seekers inYemen.

Journalist and refugee rights activist Tasnim Amin has said that the conditions in which Somali and African refugees inYemenare living are tragic. And the UN High Commissioner for Refugees inYemenwarns that African refugees are the most exposed to spread coronavirus, as a result of the lack of access to health care, insufficient access to clean water, sanitation and other basic services.

Earlier this year, in May, theYemeniMinister of Health in the capital of Sanaa announced that the first known death from coronavirus in the country was a Somalian refugee. He was found dead in a hotel in the capital.

Many of these refugees do not have homes, suffer from a shortage of foodstuffs and cannot access health services, which are already under severe strain. They are also prone to mistreatment by the authorities sent to manage them. Yet, despite the catastrophic scale of this problem, there is a disheartening lack of interest among aid organisations and authorities. If such neglect continues, these African refugee communities will not only suffer from coronavirus but also cholera, dengue fever, and other preventable diseases.

This is if these people manage to make the perilous crossing from Africa and into the Yemen at all. Tasnim Amin warns that if efforts are not made to limit new refugee arrivals at the Yemeni border the situation will deteriorate further. Many of the migrants died in the sea, because the smugglers throw them at a distance from the beach and some of them are not able to swim. It is a harrowing echo of Europes own migrant crisis in recent years.

Amid these conditions, African migrants in general and Somalian refugees particular have become pariahs in the Yemen. They are seen by many as a burden, and the influx of refugees is perceived to be a drain on food and medical supplies. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has warned that Yemen cannot handle this alone, and that it requires the cooperation of the international community and regional powers to tackle this problem.

In light of these events, activists such as the civil society campaigner Basil Al-Dura has recently stressed the need to tighten the procedures and temporarily prevent entry into theYemen. This, he believes, is the only way to stop the humanitarian crisis and health catastrophe from getting even worse.

He said: a large number of African immigrants enterYemeniregions every day illegally and not subject to any medical tests for corona virus.

He added that the increased influx of refugees exacerbates the challenges of humanitarian work inYemen, because the war, the weakness of authorities and the lack of coordination between international and local organizations and theYemenigovernment all make it nearly impossible to provide effective relief.

This dilemma for African refugees and the humanitarian workers trying to help them represents a tragedy within a tragedy. At a time when the eyes of the international community are looking elsewhere, this pandemic is having a devastating impact on the people of the country and its growing refugee population.

While this continues to unfold, there is an unavoidable feeling that the world has given up on theYemen. If other countries continue to look the other way while this is unfolding, then it will get worse. In a world where we are all ever more connected, to abandon Yemen would be a terrible oversight from those who have the power to provide relief but choose to stand aside.

Haitham al-Qaoud is a freelance journalist and human rights activist from theYemen.

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Covid-19 is deepening the crisis in Yemen - Reaction - Reaction

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