Fatima Al-Hawali is the sole provider for her family of five children. They arrived in Aden, in southern Yemen, from Al-Kood, from where she fled with her family when Ansar Al-Sharia, the al-Qaida-aligned terrorist group, took control of many parts of Abyan in May 2011.
Home to the Al-Hawalis is now a classroom in the Radfan Girls Public School in Sheikh Othman District, which they share with many other displaced families.
While still in Abyan, Fatima earned her living from sheepherding. When she heard the army’s claims that it had finally cleared the governorate of terrorists in mid-June, she had great expectations of returning home and resuming her normal life. But all that vanished when she was told that her herd of 30 sheep was lost in the fighting between the US-backed Yemeni army and the Ansar Al-Sharia.
Her home, too, was destroyed and cannot be rebuilt because the area was heavily mined by the al-Qaida loyalists. “How can we return?” Al-Hawali asked. “Our houses are destroyed, the area is full of mines and there are no services -- no water and no electricity.”
She complained that so far she has only received some food rations from the UAE, including flour, sugar, and wheat. “I have not seen any assistance from the US, and we have no idea about that," Al-Hawali said.
The war against al-Qaida in Abyan drove thousands of Yemeni families from their homes to Aden and to other nearby areas.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has so far registered more than 171,000 Yemeni, including the Al-Hawalis, as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) due to conflict in Abyan, including 125,000 who are in Aden. The rest were displaced to other surrounding governorates including Lahj, the other area located within Abyan itself, UNHCR public information associate Jamal Al-Najjar, told The Media Line.
"So far there is no significant number of IDPs returning to their areas of origin because it must be voluntary and conditions for return should be conducive," he said. “This includes: reconstruction of infrastructure; ensuring the security and safety of returnees; and the availability of basic services.”
Al-Najjar highlighted that “UNHCR 's operations in the country expanded to respond to the displacement in the south and to the ongoing displacement of people in some parts in the North such as the scene of recent clashes between the Houthis and tribesmen in Hajja governorate. And with the continuous flow of refugees from the Horn of Africa, all these factors put extra strains on its resources, said Al-Najjar.
Early this year, UNHCR determined that $60 million is needed to meet the needs of the refugees and displaced people. “Part of this budget has been provided,” said Al-Najjar, but “UNHCR continues its efforts to mobilize more resources to meet needs of IDPs and refugees in the country.”
Fatima Al-Halawi and UNHCR’s Al-Najjar both expect that the United States will make up the difference. This year, under the administration of newly-installed President Abd Rabo Mansour Hadi, the US increased its humanitarian and development assistance about 15 percent compared to the 2011 level.
In late June, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development [USAID], Raj Shah, announced $52 million in additional financial assistance to Yemen which would bring the total 2012 assistance to $170 million, according to the website of the American Embassy in Sana’a.
In November 2011, the Yemen Times published an opinion piece by US Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein in honor of USAID’s 50th anniversary and the development and humanitarian assistance to Yemen that the United States provides.
Feierstein said, “USAID developed a strategy to address new challenges in partnership with local communities, civil society, and the private sector... cover[ing] response projects designed to meet the most urgent needs of the Yemeni people... including emergency relief for displaced and conflict-affected persons.”
Yet, not all Yemeni citizens trust the American commitment. Shiite Houthis, who are in control of Sa'ada on the Saudi southern border and other parts of Hajja and Amran northern areas, believe that this assistance is just a pretext for the US military presence in Yemen.
“This support is just to ensure that Yemen’s territory is open for their drone strikes and marines,” Dhaifallah Al-Shami, head of the Media Department of the Houthis' Political Council told The Media Line.
He alleged that the “US financial aid comes in accordance with the American plot to occupy Yemen.” According to the Houthis, the humanitarian and development aid is American strategy for gaining acceptance of US policy by the people. Underscoring the point, no American-funded projects are presently operating in Sa’ada, where Houthis march every Friday morning chanting, “Death to America,” “Death to Israel,” and “Victory to Islam.”
Asked where financial assistance from Washington is spent, Al-Shami charged that, “the money goes to officials’ accounts.”
Aish Awas, of the Sheba Center For Strategic Studies, told The Media Line that America’s trend of increasing humanitarian and development aid is in line with the US strategy for fighting al-Qaida.
“The military solution alone proved [to be a] failure in advancing against al-Qaida,” said Awas. “So they [Americans] realized that humanitarian and economic issues must be addressed to curb al-Qaida and this is the new US strategy in its war on terror.”
During the popular uprising that removed former President Ali Abdullah Saleh from office, the United States provided Yemen with $145 million in assistance in 2011, according to the US State Department.
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