At The Crossroads
The current military conflict in Yemen started in 2015 as a civil war and has escalated further into an international issue. The country is experiencing the current biggest humanitarian catastrophe in the world. Approximately 24.1 million people are in urgent need and 3.3 million people had to leave war-torn Yemen in a search for a shelter and survival (UNHCR, 2019).
Djibouti and the coast of Yemen are approximately 20 km away from each other, in a straight line by the sea. Djibouti is a place where thousands of people with different stories, reasons and problems meet. Around 27 thousands refugees (UNHCR, 2018), many of whom are Yemeni, found shelter there. It is important to note that not only are there many refugees from Yemen, but the population in the camps in Djibouti is made up of a huge number of Eritreans, Ethiopians and Somalis. Djibouti itself, outside the refugee camps, is facing a major poverty problem, with 23% of the population living below the poverty line (Central Intelligence Agency, 2015). So just as there are people who desperately travel to Djibouti in a last hope of shelter and survival, there are also people who are desperately try to leave. In fact, the living conditions are so poor that some people are willing to risk their lives and flee to war-stricken Yemen in order to later migrate to other countries in the Middle East in hopes of building a better life. Moreover, some Yemenis who had migrated to countries in the Horn of Africa in the 1970s for economic reasons, now feel obliged with patriotic feelings to come back to their homeland which is in need. Therefore, Djibouti can be seen as a crossroads, where many lives intersect for many different reasons.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees leads the response for refugees and asylum-seekers at the Ali Addeh, Holl-Holl, and Markazi camps, maintaining a collaboration with the Government of Djibouti (UNHCR, 2017). Overcrowded camps consist of tents or steel houses both of which are not adequate for the high African temperatures. There are no hospitals and a lack of proper medical care due to numerous NGOs gradually withdrawing their help from the camps. Access to education is limited within poorly equipped camp’s provisional schools, resulting in many people teaching one another informally.
One of the most prevailing and urgent issues in the camps is hunger. Once a month thousands of people line up to receive their monthly food ration which is distributed by UNHCR. It consists of exactly: a cup of salt, two cups of sugar, one litre of oil, a portion of flour, rice and beans. Additionally, they are given two American dollars, which are, just like the food ration, demonstrably irrelevant and not enough - it is a price of one ticket to the nearby city or a one warm meal there. Some people tragically find an escape in the drug called Cat, which not only kills the feeling of hunger but also artificially increases the feeling of happiness and euphoria.
Yemenis have escaped their war-torn country without a choice. They have found themselves in refugee camps in Djibouti, which unfortunately are unable to provide adequate food, shelter and healthcare. In fact, they are facing the same poverty, hunger and health issues as they were back home.
What the world is doing is giving refugees ineffective help and not listening to their needs. It is a tragic paradox not to include refugees in any of the discussions regarding issues directly related to them, particularly in relation to aid and support. Refugees are dehumanised on a variety of levels. In the dialogue around some of the world’s most vulnerable communities, their individuality and self-worth is diminished to nothing but numbers and statistics. They are looked upon as incapable victims, when the truth is that they are stronger than many of us. They are stronger and more resilient because they have been through trauma, disease and hunger. They have walked thousands kilometres on foot, losing family and friends along the way. But above all, they are human beings. They have a voice and their voice should be listened to on an equal footing as the voice of the people who decide their fate sitting in comfortable chairs in Geneva.
Photos by Alicja Borzyszkowska