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The Saudis Are Starving Yemen to Death

Nawal al-Maghafi reports on the situation in Yemen:

Everywhere I went, from the Internally Displaced Persons camps to primary schools that had been turned into makeshift shelters, I was quickly surrounded as soon as people spotted my camera. Everyone offered the same plea: for someone to tell their story to the world.

This broke my heart, because I didn’t have the guts to tell them the simple, blunt truth: that beyond its borders, very few people care about Yemen. Despite horrific human rights abuses, including war crimes committed by all parties to the conflict, being documented for months, this war has not captured the attention of the Western public at anywhere near the level Syria has.

I have remarked before on the general indifference to the war on Yemen in the West (and almost everywhere else), which is in some respects baffling and in others entirely unsurprising. The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is as severe as any in the world, and may well be the worst when we consider how many millions of people are at risk of starving to death, but it generates none of the attention or outrage that other conflicts have provoked in the last twenty years. There are many possible explanations for why this is the case, and I have offered some in previousposts, but it continues to be somewhat shocking that a group of states can wreak such gratuitous havoc on an impoverished country with the blessings of Washington and London and face so little scrutiny or criticism. No doubt lobbying by the Saudis and their allies account for some of this, but some of it unfortunately seems to come down to the fact that almost no one cares what the Saudi-led coalition is doing to Yemen with U.S. and British support if they are even aware of it.

Despite the fact that the Saudi-led blockade is depriving millions of people of basic necessities and creating near-famine conditions (al-Maghafi writes that “[t]wenty of Yemen’s 22 governorates are precariously poised on the verge of devastating famine”), the blockade and its effects are barely mentioned in most reports and then only in passing. Regrettably, one of the side-effects of the blockade is that it makes it very difficult for anyone to enter the country to document what is happening. Another is that it prevents Yemenis from being able to get out of the country where they might find some relief, and those that manage to get out of the country find few places to seek refuge. While refugees from Eritrea and Syria are able to call attention to the terrible conditions in those countries, most Yemenis are trapped in the war zone where few are able to tell their stories, and so they remain effectively invisible to outside audiences. Al-Maghafi describes what this means for the people hoping to flee:

When the war began on March 26th, all of the country’s exit ports were instantly closed and a blockade imposed on the movement of people as well as goods, both in and out of the country.

Countries that once welcomed Yemenis without a visa, such as Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, have closed their doors. Anyone seeking a visa will soon discover none of these countries have functioning embassies in Yemen today.

Thousands of Yemenis have managed to flee to Djibouti by boat. Many do not survive the extremely perilous journey, while those who do are met with the most tepid of welcomes. With no official refugee camps in the country and hotels charging exorbitant rates, the majority return.

While there is hope that peace talks in Kuwait may lead to a halt in the fighting, it is the blockade that is doing the greatest harm to most of the population, and the civilian population desperately needs the Saudi-led coalition to lift that blockade on their country. If that doesn’t happen, the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen is sure to grow much worse in the coming months. The disgrace of our government’s ongoing support for the Saudi-led war also gets worse with each passing day.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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