"Yemen needs peace to breathe"
"While there is development in Germany, you can only find destruction in Yemen", says Ashwaq Al-Gobi. The young CrossCulture fellow comes from the crisis-ridden Yemen. Since 2015, the southernmost country of the Arabian Peninsula has been experiencing one of the world's biggest humanitarian crises. In November 2017, we met Ashwaq during our intercultural workshop to talk about the conflict in Yemen and her experiences in Germany.
Interview by Christina Palau
ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen): We hear a lot about the situation in Yemen, especially about Cholera and the hunger crisis. How would you, as a citizen, describe the current situation in Yemen?
Ashwaq Al-Gobi: First of all, I have to mention that my point of view is subjective and media coverage throughout the country is poor. However, as a citizen and professional working for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), I am seeing a lot of human rights violations and I am reading the UN publication on the humanitarian crisis and its victims on a daily basis. The general situation of Yemen’s civil society has changed dramatically over the past years since the war started. Taking into consideration that the country was already in need of humanitarian assistance before the war, it is now a huge disaster: There isn’t any food, clean water, electricity, fuel, or infrastructure. Hospitals are being bombed and schools are getting closed.
ifa: Taking into consideration these Problems, what are the basic needs of people in Yemen nowadays?
Ashwaq Al-Gobi: What we need most now is peace and from my perspective there is nothing more important than that; especially, after the internal conflict has become an international conflict through the intervention of the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia. After this intervention the impact of war in Yemen has increased and the millions of dollars the UN tries to help with do not cover the gap. In the meantime, we will continue to receive money for urgent humanitarian assistance. I think Yemeni people need peace to breathe and to realise that they are still alive in order to be able to rebuild Yemen and to start a dialogue between all the different parties.
ifa: How does civil society work under these circumstances?
Ashwaq Al-Gobi: Besides the bombings, people find themselves suffering from strategic obstacles, such as closed ports and airports, which make daily life a hassle. In addition, there is a lack of medical treatment; hospitals do not have the necessary medicine or equipment – not even for first aid treatment. Likewise schools are closed as a result of two things: Firstly, teachers are not getting paid and therefore are not willing to work. Secondly, education is no longer a priority for children and their families. Everybody is lacking salaries and basic needs to the point that children are forced to help maintain their families, either through begging in the streets or working at the market. Moreover, people are getting desperate and cases of family and/or group suicides are taking place.
ifa: How is the atmosphere towards the conflict among citizens?
Ashwaq Al-Gobi: I think the perception of the conflict went through different stages. In the first year of the war, everybody wanted to protect their Yemeni identity more than anything else. After the first attack of the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia, people defended Yemen as a country with all its different tribes, including the Houthis. The general consent was to stop external interference, at least in the north where I come from. People were strong and helped each other with what they had, whether it was money, fuel or food. During the second year, the consequences of the war started to impact each household. Rockets were launched randomly, scared people and had psychological effects. Humanitarian assistance could not be received anymore due to the closing of airports and seaportsPeople started to starve, medicine became scarce and people shuttered themselves from everything around. The neighbor’s life was no longer important but rather their own life and their families’ life. Identity did not play a role as basic needs like clean water, food and electricity became a priority. Now we are in the third year and the situation is at the limit for everybody.
ifa: What are the expectations regarding Europe’s role in the overall conflict and the resolution of the current situation?
Ashwaq Al-Gobi: If possible, Europe should promote peace. European countries such as Germany or the UK have, for instance, funded some projects with IOM which helped the Yemeni society to a certain extent. But at the same time, this kind of support is not solving the roots of the problem. I do not see the benefit of counting the victims instead of building peace and promoting dialogue within the conflict parties. This also refers to the countries participating in the coalition. If they spent the money to develop the country instead of bombing it, Yemen would be better off.
ifa: How do International Organisations and especially IOM work in Yemen?
Ashwaq Al-Gobi: They are doing their best to assist the people in Yemen. However, 20 million persons are in need of basic humanitarian assistance which makes it a big challenge for UN agencies and international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) to response. Therefore, a lot of people from the community lost trust in the national and international civil society. This influences the humanitarian respond immensely. For instance, there are areas where people refused to receive chlorine tabs to clean the water, saying that INGOs would operate in favor of the military coalition trying to pollute their water. Therefore, work is forced to be stopped in this area even though cholera is widely spread there. On the other hand, there are governorates that expect more help than we can offer.
ifa: What exactly are these expectations?
Ashwaq Al-Gobi: The reason behind these expectations is to a great extent a high number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Although most of Yemen is getting bombed, there are still people moving from one governorate to another seeking for safety and security. This creates problems and conflicts for the host communities and the displaced persons as they differ in their backgrounds. Consequently, our field of work also includes the promotion of rethinking change in thinking, acceptance of the other and educational aspects.
ifa: Can you tell us about your arrival in Germany?
Ashwaq Al-Gobi: As you can imagine, I come from a country where everything is destroyed and until the last moment, I had images in my head about destruction. Finally, I flew off from the destructed area and arrived to Frankfurt am Main then to Mainz. The first things I noticed when I arrived to Germany were the buildings and people of all kind of nationalities. It felt like the whole world was gathering in one place and I was amongst them. In Yemen, I felt isolated from the rest of the world without TV or even people from different nationalities in Yemen. In Mainz, I saw construction areas and was so glad to hear this kind of noise. Seeing a building being built instead of being destroyed makes me very happy. For me, constructing means future and I have not seen a building under construction for a long time.
ifa: What experience affected you during your three months lasting stay in Germany?
Ashwaq Al-Gobi: I am aware that one cannot compare Yemen with Germany. While there is development in Germany, you can only find destruction in Yemen. But there was one experience in Germany that gave me hope. When I went to Berlin, we visited the Berlin Wall, several Soviet and US checkpoints and learned about the Second World War. All that showed me that Germany also went through times of destruction and maybe Yemen can follow the example of Germany in terms of development and one day become like Germany is today. Therefore, Germany means hope for me.
Thank you very much for sharing your experiences!