By Kavya Verma
With the recent disappearance and murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi-US relations have become tense, leading to a major public outcry and renewed critiques of many of Saudi Arabia’s policies, including the country’s role in the ongoing crisis in Yemen. Adding to the public attention and concern regarding this topic is the UN’s prediction of the worst famine in the last century if the war does not come to an end. Now this fear is edging closer to reality as conflict rages over the key port of Hudaydah, where massive portions of key resources arrive in Yemen. If the port of Hudaydah suffers, so will a large number of Yemenis who are dependent on the supplies that pass through it for their survival.
Since the crisis erupted in 2015, the UNHCR estimates that out of the 166,658 individuals who have fled Yemen, 75,748 have arrived in countries located in the Horn of Africa. It is a short sea route that separates Yemen from Djibouti, and linguistic, cultural, and historic ties may make Djibouti a viable option for those in desperate need of refuge away from nearby conflict. What greets them in their place of relative refuge, however, is all too disheartening.
In the years prior to the outbreak of violence in Yemen, many would exit the Horn of Africa through Djibouti and Somalia, and possibly onwards into Yemen, to attempt to seek work in the more prosperous Gulf States. Since 2015, Bab-el-Mandeb, the less than 100km-wide strait that separates Yemen and Djibouti, has seen two-way travel by those seeking prosperity on each side. In recent years, the number of Yemenis crossing the strait has substantially increased.
Once they are placed in refugee camps at a great distance from the capital and the relatively prosperous regions in which new arrivals from Yemen seek to rebuild their lives, many refugees unsurprisingly become pessimistic regarding their future prospects. This has led to reports of instances of domestic abuse, compounded by a cultural stigma which presses victims not to report abuse. Now, the prolonged economic strife faced by refugees upon arrival in the Horn of Africa is likely to lead to increased - but just as infrequently reported - instances of domestic violence against Yemeni women.
This single issue brings to light the lack of support being provided to the the nations hosting the largest number of Yemeni refugees, as well as the issue of integrating refugees into local society and away from refugee camps. Increased integration and improvements in financial prospects among refugees could reduce domestic violence, and any additional resources going to Djiboutian NGOs aiming to provide care for victims of domestic abuse would assist in countering the cultural stigma against reporting abuse.
Even with the US currently calling for a ceasefire, if the the port of Hudaydah suffers damage, the rest of Yemen will. Those who are able to flee may be forced to make their final attempt to get out of Yemen, relocating across the Horn of Africa in a desperate bid for relative safety.