Yemen: Health needs grow in former safe haven of Marib

Marib is no longer a safe place for its residents

12 Mar 21

Dotted across Marib governorate, in northeast Yemen, are 134 camps – temporary home to Yemenis displaced from their homes by the six-year-long conflict, African migrants stranded in Yemen, and members of a vulnerable minority group from Yemen known as Al-Muhamasheen.

Marib is no longer a safe place

Before the start of the conflict, Marib was home to almost 400,000 people, according to local authorities.

Now, it hosts nearly 2.7 million people including displaced from elsewhere, all looking for a safe haven.

Al Noor camp for internally displaced Yemenis, which is one of the largest camps in Marib. MSF provides primary healthcare in this camp through a mobile clinic.

However, Marib is no longer a safe place to be. In recent weeks, the frontlines of the conflict have moved eastwards into the governorate.

Dr. Abdukareem Saleh patient Abas Muhammad  in the mobile clinic in the Hygiene Fund camp, a camp for African migrants who work as cleaners to clean the city under the contract with the Hygiene Fund.

On 8 February, fighting escalated in Sirwah district, to the west of Marib city, causing large numbers of injuries and forcing some 10,000 people to flee and about 600 families have settled in a camp about 20 km outside of town.

Hafsa Al Mesbahi, an MSF nurse, works in the vaccination and nutrition department: "In the MSF clinic, we provide awareness-raising to patients about the importance and necessity of vaccines.."

MSF donated essential drugs to hospitals in Marib to help them cope with the influx of wounded and started providing primary healthcare to the newly displaced people.

The pharmacy in the MSF mobile clinic in Sabran camp, Marib.

No place else to go 

As the frontlines approach Marib city, MSF is concerned that people sheltering in the area may find themselves with no place else to go.

Eman Aklan, 35- years- old, is a mother of four, she is displaced in Sabran camp. Eman says: "After my husband died and we were displaced to Sabran camp in Marib, I realized that I was alone, and I cannot earn one penny as I am uneducated."

Um Marzouk is a 30-year-old mother of five from Nehim, in Sana’a province. Displaced multiple times by the conflict, she and her family now live in Al-Sweida camp, 5 km from Marib city.

“We have been displaced five times because of fighting,” says Um Marzouk.

“We have been displaced five times because of fighting and attacks in our area, Nehim in Sana’a, and the last time we were displaced to Al Sweida Camp”, says Um Marzouk. Jadel, three years old, is one of Um Marzouk's children who was born in the camp.

It is difficult now even to think of returning to our home in Nehim because it was completely destroyed

Um Marzouk, REFUGEE IN AL-SWEIDA CAMp

“Two of my children were born in different camps and it was so hard – I gave birth to one child with no medical care at all.”

Al Sweida camp in Marib, where MSF provides primary healthcare in its mobile clinics. The clinics offer primary healthcare services such as general consultations, reproductive healthcare, mental health services, malnutrition treatment and referrals.

Um Marzouk’s family is just one of thousands who have sought refuge in Marib over the past six years, mostly from the provinces of Al-Jawf, Saada, Hajjah, Hodeidah and Sana’a.

Al Sweida camp, to which MSF provides primary healthcare through its mobile clinic.

Um Marzouk’s three-year-old daughter Jadel was born in Al-Sweida camp. Life in a camp, with no running water or electricity, is all she has ever known.

Jadel is three years old and one of Um Marzouk’s children who was born in the camp. Jadel couldn’t recognize the image of a house that she saw drawn on paper, yet she smiled when she saw a drawing of a tent and said: “That is a tent.”

When shown a drawing of a house, she looks blank, but a drawing of a tent immediately brings a smile of recognition to her face.

Gaeza on the left and her cousin are displaced from Sweida camp in Marib.

MSF Response in Marib

MSF’s team in Marib runs two mobile clinics, which regularly visit eight different sites around Marib city, providing people with basic healthcare, reproductive healthcare, vaccinations, malnutrition treatment and mental health services.

They also refer to hospital children with malnutrition and respiratory tract infections and women in need of emergency obstetric care.

Heidi Woods Lehnen is MSF’s medical activity manager in the Marib project. She is following up on of Taqwa Muhammad, a 3-month-old girl, and this is the second time she returns to the mobile clinic in the Hygiene Fund area.

“The needs are clearly visible wherever we go with our mobile clinics,” says MSF nurse Jethro Guerina.

Hana Al Hakeimi, an MSF nurse in Marib project. She is measuring a child’s height in the Ambulatory Therapeutic Feeding Center (ATFC) of MSF’s mobile clinic.

“The number of patients in our mobile clinics is increasing day by day.”

Some people here haven’t had a chance to see a doctor in a long time, if ever

Jethro Guerina, MSF nurse

Hana Al Hakeimi, an MSF nurse in Marib project. She is measuring a child’s height in the Ambulatory Therapeutic Feeding Center (ATFC) of MSF’s mobile clinic.

Stranded in Bin Muili camp

Another sites visited by MSF’s mobile teams is Bin Muili camp, home to migrants from various African countries.

Hana Al Hakeimi, an MSF nurse in Marib project. She is measuring a child’s height in the Ambulatory Therapeutic Feeding Center (ATFC) of MSF’s mobile clinic.

Most of the estimated 6,000 African migrants in Marib come from Ethiopia and were heading for Saudi Arabia before being stranded in northern Yemen.

Most migrants in Marib live in overcrowded conditions, with poor sanitation and limited access to basic services

Baroo Ibrahim, 17 years old, traveled from Ethiopia with a friend and one of his relatives two and a half years ago, hoping to arrive in Saudi Arabia to work, but due to the closure of Saudi Arabia’s borders, they were forced to stay in Marib.

Some have been stranded for several years due to conflict in the border area; others became stranded a year ago when the border was shut due to COVID-19.

Baroo Ibrahim, 17 years old, has speech problems since a young age. Nine months ago, Baroo had an accident. He was run over by a municipal car while he was sleeping in front of his tent, which led to the fracture of his left leg.

“When my wife and I left Ethiopia, we were planning to go to Saudi Arabia and earn some money,” says 21-year-old Hussein Awal.

Hussein Auwal, 21, from the Bin Muwaili camp, says: “If I went to look for work, I would earn my daily living, and if I didn’t go, I cannot buy any food." Hussein could not continue to talk about the difficult living situation and ran out in tears.

“Right now we are stuck in Marib looking for a way to support ourselves. If I don’t find work, I can’t feed myself and my wife."

"There are four of us now after my wife gave birth to twins, so I feel I am in a big problem when I think of providing for them all.”

Hussein Auwal, 21, from the Bin Muwaili camp for African migrants, says: "Now we are four, after my wife gave birth to twins. I feel that I am in a big problem when I think about feeding them all."

Like Hussein and his wife, most migrants in Marib live in overcrowded conditions, with poor sanitation and limited access to basic services.

Fears around the spread of COVID-19 have heightened their risks of being stigmatised, arrested and detained.

Eman Muhammad and her husband, Hussein Othman, are from Ethiopia and have two children. They came from Ethiopia to Yemen three years ago to look for work, and after a while, when living conditions did not improve, they came to stay with friends in Marib

Their movements are often restricted and they have few job opportunities. The ongoing fighting in Marib could only exacerbate these vulnerabilities and worsen what is already a precarious situation.

MSF car on its way back from a camp where it provides primary healthcare through its mobile clinics in Marib.

Living conditions in Hareeb Junction 

MSF’s mobile team also provide healthcare in Hareeb Junction, a slum area on the outskirts of Marib city, home to Al-Muhamasheen – “the marginalised ones” – a minority group who suffer discrimination, poverty and social exclusion and they usually come from an African descents.

Hareeb Junction camp for the marginalised, to which MSF provides primary health care through its mobile clinics.

Like most of the areas where Al-Muhamasheen live, Hareeb Junction has no running water, proper sanitation or rubbish collection.

Its residents have few economic opportunities and receive very limited assistance from aid agencies.

Hareeb Junction camp for the marginalised, to which MSF provides primary health care through its mobile clinics.

“We used to feel safe in our homes and we did not know the meaning of misery, but that’s what we are experiencing now with the lack of basic services,” says 60-year-old Zabeidi Rashid, who lives in Hareeb Junction.

Zubeidi Rashad, 60 years old, one of Muhamasheen. With a loud voice, pale face, and red eyes full of tears, he says: “I cannot control my feelings whenever I recall how we used to live in the past."

“We are like birds that go to look for food to feed their children: if they don’t go out looking for food one day, their children will not eat that day.”

Life in Hareeb Junction camp in Marib. A woman making her lunch of bread and tea. To fuel the fire she uses trash.

Zabeidi was displaced from his home elsewhere where he was living a relatively better life.

Hareeb Junction camp for the marginalised, to which MSF provides primary health care through its mobile clinics.

“I cannot control my feelings whenever I recall how we used to live in the past,” he says, his eyes full of tears.

“If you could see the nice house where I used to live, you wouldn’t believe that this black man was living there.”

Hareeb Junction camp for the marginalised, to which MSF provides primary health care through its mobile clinics.

With families in Hareeb Junction having an average of five children each, most of the population are children.

Hareeb Junction camp for the marginalised, to which MSF provides primary health care through its mobile clinics.

With no school in the area, they receive no education and their parents cannot afford to buy them shoes, nappies or clothes

If children fall sick, there is no money to take them to see a doctor.

Hareeb Junction camp for the marginalised, to which MSF provides primary health care through its mobile clinics.

High demand for medical attention

MSF’s medical services are free of charge, so when the mobile team arrives, they are always greeted by a queue of people waiting for a consultation.

In the waiting area of Sabran camp in Marib.

One of the most common medical conditions is diarrhoea, related to the area’s poor sanitation and lack of clean drinking water.

Abdukareem Saleh is an MSF doctor while doing a checkup on a patient at Sabran camp in Marib.

Noticing that some of the children had experienced traumatic events related to the six years of war and displacement, the MSF team organises recreational activities, such as drawing sessions and games of football.

Sanaa is one of MSF health workers who support children with games and some activities. This picture was taken in Al Noor camp in Marib.

These games play an important role in their development, say MSF mental health activity manager Lisa La Gattuta.

In addition to the health services, MSF conducts recreational activities for children such as drawing, soccer and other games. Sanaa is one of MSF health workers who support children with activities. This picture was taken in Al Noor camp in Marib.

“These activities are very important as recreational activities for MSF teams to to engage with the community, but above all to promote social interaction, mental development,” she says.

Child Salman, 5-years-old, from Al Noor Camp in Marib. This photo was taken of him enjoying the activities and games offered by the MSF mental health team.

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