Reuters | Mohammed Mukhashaf | June 13, 2011
ADEN – More than 15,000 people fleeing fighting between the army and Islamist gunmen in Yemen’s Abyan province have turned schools in Yemen’s southern port city into makeshift refugee camps.
Refugees complained that authorities have not provided them with enough medicine, clothing and blankets.
They sleep 20 and 30 to a classroom, eat what a local charity brings to the school — beans with bread, rice with fish or meat — and await clothes to replace what they left behind.
“We left everything we own behind us,” said Fudail Hassan Hasoun. “I fled my house with nothing and ran away with my four children and their mother.”
In one school, mattresses and blankets have replaced desks and chairs, and adults crowd the classrooms while children play outside.
Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Saleh is still absent after being wounded in an attack on his palace earlier in June, after months of protests against his three decades of rule.
“We escaped with our lives from the hell of battles,” said Obeid Ahmed, a refugee at al-Mansoura elementary school, one of dozens in the city housing people from Abyan, whose capital Zinjibar fell to militants last month.
“We fled with nothing to cover ourselves with,” Ahmed said of the day he escaped with his wife and three children.
President Ali Abdulah Saleh’s opponents have accused him of handing over Zinjibar to Islamists to underline his threat that the end of his rule, as demanded by protesters, would amount to ceding the region to al Qaeda.
Local authorities said they were surveying schools in Aden and Lahj to assess the needs of the refugees.
Masrour Saleh, who is staying with relatives in Aden, came to check on his brothers and their families who were staying at al-Mansoura school. He recounted the first day of fighting between government forces and Islamist militants last month.
“It was like lightning bolt that came upon our head while we were sleeping. We woke up hearing the sounds of bullets and explosions,” he said.
Yemen’s army said it had killed 21 al Qaeda militants at the weekend, but there was little sign the end of fighting was near.
Ali Ahmed Subeit, a government employee, considered himself lucky because his father has a house in Aden where he and his family have been staying for the past two weeks.
He was one of a few who dared to go back to Zinjibar to salvage what they could from their homes — in his case a television and satellite receiver.
“The city has become frightening, a city of ghosts with no water, electricity, everything shut,” he said.