Wednesday, September 22, 2021
HomeWorldAcross the ‘Gate of Tears’: Yemen refugees flee to Djibouti

Across the ‘Gate of Tears’: Yemen refugees flee to Djibouti

Dwarfed by warships and giant cargo vessels, the small wooden boats that brave the dangerous crossing between the Horn of Africa and Yemen are a lifeline for the desperate thousands fleeing war.

Each day they come from the Arabian Peninsula to Djibouti, crossing the waters of the Bab al-Mandeb strait — the “Gate of Tears” in Arabic — the key shipping channel of the Gulf of Aden.

Djibouti, a tiny nation of over 800,000 people, is a haven for Yemeni refugees fleeing the air strikes that have devastated their country.

“Nobody wants to help us. Saudi Arabia says no Yemenis. Egypt, no Yemenis. Jordan, no Yemenis,” said Nasser Saleh, showing the bullet wounds covering his body.

In late March, a Saudi-led coalition began air strikes against Shiite Huthi rebels, after the insurgents, who are backed by ex-soldiers loyal to Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, seized control of large parts of the nation.

While Yemen this week began a humanitarian truce, many remain fearful it will not hold as the ceasefire is conditional on the rebels reciprocating and not exploiting it for military advantage.

“Where can we go? The only place left for us is the grave and death,” Saleh said.

At its narrowest point, there are only some 30 kilometres (20 miles) between Yemen and Djibouti, a port that guards the entrance to the Red Sea and Suez Canal.The fighting in Yemen has already sent thousands fleeing across the sea to Djibouti, with many more expected to make the crossing.

Sitting on the floor in the sweltering heat, Saleh chews fresh green leaves of khat, a mild stimulant.

“This is the only pain relief and rest I found, I need more drugs,” he said. His right arm has been operated on; his left is bound in a makeshift splint.

“I came here in transit, but I’ve been here now for 16 days and I can’t leave… we need specialised surgeons, but there are none here,” he said.

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