This blog was written by Awssan Kamal, an Oxfam GB Humanitarian Campaign Project Manager and humanitarian activist.
I’m a British Yemeni who left the UK to work in Yemen in 2014 – as an aid worker and activist – in the hope that post-Arab spring – when there were a series of anti-government protests and uprisings – there would be a chance for people to live a happy and dignified life in a more just Yemen.
I was forced to return to the UK when the conflict that followed began. It has now been going on five years. And it hasn’t just been a difficult time for the people of Yemen – but for other countries facing long-lasting crises, such as Afghanistan, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. These conflicts have made life even more difficult for people in these countries and others in conflict zones across the world – and pushed them to take extreme measures to survive, put food on the table and support their families.
This week marks three months since the UN Secretary-General came out and called for a global ceasefire.
In his statement he said, “Our world faces a common enemy: COVID-19. The virus does not care about nationality or ethnicity, faction or faith. It attacks all, relentlessly. The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war.” He added, “It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”
I wholeheartedly agree – but the Yemeni people still can’t see peace!
So why am I personally talking about Yemen today? For me, the pandemic hit the heart of my home with the death of my father who lived in our family home in Aden, a little seaside city in the south of Yemen. In early May, after a few hours of complaining of breathing problems that could have been caused by the coronavirus, he passed to another life.
Since early May the coronavirus has taken hold in Yemen, spreading among families and cities. It has deepened the misery for millions of people in Yemen. Every day, other Yemenis living abroad like me sit on the outside praying for this war to end.
We try to refocus our efforts on trying to overcome the real challenge that lies ahead – the one we all face – of fighting the inequalities driven by the coronavirus that affect people in Yemen, just like it is in places like London, New York or Madrid.
During lockdown, we’ve all had to live through missing family and friends. And losing some. In this situation, none of us are safe from coronavirus until we all are.
Many people in Yemen worry if hospitals will be able to help them, their parents or their children if they catch this deadly virus. Many Yemenis are already malnourished, or suffering from other diseases such as malaria, dengue fever or cholera, making them more susceptible and vulnerable to the coronavirus. And the next two months are the height of the rainy season in Yemen, which gives ample opportunity for these diseases to flourish and spread.
When we started seeing more coronavirus cases in Yemen, the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire initiated further efforts to appeal to parties to the conflict and work with them to make peace a real possibility.
Today, I sit here and wonder – when will there be an end to the brutal war in my country?
The last five years of conflict have caused tens of thousands to lose their lives, and increased food insecurity to levels I cannot imagine. Many people I know across the country are finding it hard to put three meals a day on the table. This is the reality for millions of people in Yemen.
We’ll never be able to tackle the coronavirus while wars are still raging. We need to silence the guns and stand with those calling for immediate and permanent local ceasefires. And stand with those who are unable to access adequate health care and sanitation. We need to focus on ensuring inclusive and lasting peace, so that global efforts focus on the real challenges of inequality – and our drive to overcome coronavirus.
Please sign our petition to ask Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab that we not only overcome the war against the coronavirus in the UK, but across the world.