BBC Radio 4 Today Programme Monday 27th July.

BBC Radio 4 Today Programme 6.44-6.49 today. An item on Yemen. Please note: whilst it is laudible for the Today programme at last to do an item on Yemen, and it is excellent, why oh why put it on at 6.44, when the highest listening time on the Today Programme is an hour later. You can listen to this piece by going to BBC Radio 4 and move the cursor to 6.44.am.

amran province
The people of Amran province are desperate after daily bombing attacks by the Saudi coalition.

Transcript:
More than 1600 people have been killed in Yemen in the last 3 months. Many of them have died in Saudi airstrikes on cities controlled by the Houthi rebels, including the capital Sana’a. The Saudis, who support the country’s now exiled President Hadi oppose the Houthis that they think are backed by Iran. Given ongoing fighting and risk of kidnap by Islamic extremists very few Western journalists are in the country but with the help of her mobile phone as a recording device Dr. Natalie Roberts with Medicine Sans Frontieres has given an account of her life in North Yemen to our correspondent Mike Thompson.
NR “I am in the MSF car now heading out of town to visit the health centre that’s out in the countryside”. 36 year old Dr. Natalie Roberts from Wrexham is in Amran province just north of Sana’a but her work in providing emergency health care takes her all over this dangerous terrain. “The roads are targeted, cars are often hit and as I’m driving now I can see a truck that was bombed a few hours ago, still burning. It was carrying apples and wheat, the sacks of wheat are on fire. Every few hundred metres you see another burned out vehicle. Every single bridge on the road has been bombed out. It’s just an intimidating experience to drive up and down this road and be aware that at any minute an aeroplane could be coming. We have a flag on the roof but it doesn’t feel that it gives me much protection when you arrive at scenes like this.”
(later)
NR. “I’m in the Emergency Room at the Health Centre that we have been supporting in the mountains of North Yemen, really quite near the border. It’s an area that has had very heavy bombing. All the villages and towns nearby sustain air strikes most days.”
MT. With little or no mains electricity in Yemen, clinics like this rely on noisy generators running on scarce and very expensive fuel supplies. Many of them needing emergency help here are young children.
NR. “There’s a six year old boy here with a piece of shrapnel in his eye that he sustained this morning. It means he has lost his eye. He’s being very brave, he’s lying on a bed covered in blood and his mother is talking to him. We have already had three trauma cases this morning and it’s 11.30am. ”
(later)
NR. “That’s the call to evening prayer you hear all around Yemen. Today it’s more exciting for people because the rumour is a ceasefire has been declared. There’s a strong rumour it will start this evening. Everyone is very much in hope of that. This is a desperate population and they need some respite from the fighting.”
(later)
NR. “Morning now, it’s really quiet. Last night at midnight we were all hoping that this ceasefire that was about to be implemented, but by three o’clock in the morning I started to get text messages saying that there was more planes bombing in Sana’a and Saada governates. Really, really disappointed.”.
MT. There was some brighter news from Aden recently, when a ship carrying UN food supplies finally managed to get through to the port after waiting for weeks, but it has been estimated that the continuing violence threatens the survival of six million people across the country who are in urgent need of help.
NR. “Lunchtime and there’s a warplane circling overhead again. It happens at least once an hour. This place really makes me concerned about planes because you know that if a plane is flying overhead it’s a warplane. There’s no other planes flying over Yemen just now. So you are just waiting for the bomb to drop.”
MT. Dr. Roberts previously worked in Syria and Ukraine and will spend another month in Yemen with this threat as she tries to help local people, who are too afraid or unable to leave their homes. But given the daily risk to herself, does she think of abandoning her contract and getting out?
NR. “All the time, yes, I’ve been having these moments for the last three years. Often there’s times I lie there particularly at night when there is bombing and I think I don’t quite know why I am here. But this is the first place I have been to with no media. I just haven’t met a journalist at all. That means it’s not in the public eye. The public should be aware of the disaster and the crisis that is happening in this country.”.

Packing your life in a suitcase, and leaving Yemen

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Sameera and her eldest daughter Ghosoon, in happier times on holiday in UK.

Big day – early this morning UK time, Sameera and her daughters packed up their lifetime in a suitcase, and left Yemen for Malaysia. What a loss to Yemen, but it is their only chance of her children completing their university studies that were permanently terminated due to the war, and their only chance of remaining safe as all parts of Yemen are increasingly at risk. This is Sameera and her eldest daughter Ghosoon when they came to visit me in UK 2 years ago. Safe journey to all, and I am sure that your different future will hold many wonders and you will continue to be a credit to the world. Thank you for your friendship, my wonderful, amazing sister Sameera.

Saudis Above, Houthis below, nowhere is safe.

Children trapped in war

SANAA, Yemen — In the early hours of June 13, the Amari family was asleep in their home in Beit Meyad, a district near the heart of Sanaa. Then the bombs came. At least four missiles struck their street in quick succession at around 2 a.m.

A nearby shop selling gas cylinders was hit; there was fire everywhere. The family scrambled to flee their house. They were almost outside when an explosion blew the building’s main gate off its hinges, ramming into four of them and sending them flying backward into the house.

Four siblings were killed instantly: 11-year-old Iyad, 18-year-old Abdel Qader, 22-year-old Mona, and 25-year-old Aisha. Their cousin, Ahmed al-Amari, who lived next door, was also killed by the blasts. He was 10 years old.

“They were torn apart. We buried pieces of them,” said Boshra al-Amari, an aunt to the victims. She lives two streets away and huddled with her three sons in her home that day as the missiles rained down.

The four siblings who were killed are survived by an 18-year-old brother and a 20-year-old sister, who is now in shock and unable to speak. The mother of their dead cousin suffered only a broken arm, but she is in a state of hysteria. She believes the children were injured but are still alive. Fearing for her psychological state, Boshra has not had the heart to tell her they are all dead.

The attack also killed five members of the Akwaa family, who lived next door, including three children, bringing the death toll to at least 10, all of them civilians and five of them children. Up to 60 people were also wounded in the strike.

Beit Meyad is a residential district, but the presumed reason for the strike is that enemies of Saudi Arabia lived in the area.

On March 26, a Saudi-led coalition of Arab countries began bombing Yemen to stop the advance of a rebel group known as the Houthis who took over the capital in September and continued their march southward, seizing control of large parts of the country.

Saudi planes have bombed sites across Yemen on an almost daily basis for nearly three months, backed by logistical and intelligence support from the United States. In addition to military targets and weapons depots, the airstrikes have hit the airports in Aden and Sanaa, where two destroyed commercial airplanes still lie on the tarmac; a refugee camp the northern district of Haradh; and several UNESCO-protected heritage sites, including most recently at least five houses in Sanaa’s 2,500 year-old Old City.

In addition to the airstrikes, fierce street battles have broken out in Aden, Taiz, and elsewhere between the Houthis, who are allied with forces loyal to ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is in exile and other opponents. More than 2,500 people have been killed in the conflict and over 11,000 injured, according to the World Health Organization.

Since the beginning of June, analysts and residents in the capital say, the bombing campaign has entered a new phase:

Planes have begun targeting the homes of Saudi Arabia’s enemies, rather than just military targets.

Planes have begun targeting the homes of Saudi Arabia’s enemies, rather than just military targets. Civilians have found themselves increasingly caught in the crossfire.

The street where the Amari family lived was home to the residences of Saleh’s nephew and his brothers. They weren’t home at the time. Earlier this month, the house of Saleh’s son, Ahmed Ali, was bombed, as was his office, which is located near a popular Internet cafe in Sanaa. On Sunday night, June 14, the home of a close Houthi ally in the Faj Attan area of Sanaa was also bombarded.

“They are trying to terrorize and punish their opponents,” said Maged al-Madhaji, a Sanaa-based political researcher, adding that Saleh’s allies do not sleep in their homes anymore. “It’s an idiotic strategy and it’s a sign of their failure. They don’t know what to do. They can’t win this war from the air.”

The Saudi-led air campaign is far from the only danger Sanaa civilians like the Amari family face. Boshra said the night after her relatives were killed, a shell from an anti-aircraft weapon fired by the Houthis hit her roof and another landed in her yard. “Their sound is terrifying,” she said. “We get some kind of shrapnel from them hitting our house almost every day.”

The rapid booms of anti-aircraft fire fill the sky in Sanaa whenever the roar of a passing warplane is heard — and sometimes even when it isn’t.

Dr. Nasr al-Qadasi, the head of the Goumhouri hospital in Sanaa, Yemen’s second-biggest hospital, said he receives three to five patients a day who have been wounded by anti-aircraft munitions. “They shoot randomly and without purpose,” Qadasi said. “I am more afraid of the anti-aircraft fire than of the missiles.” In a report in May, Amnesty International found that anti-aircraft munitions shot by the Houthis “were the leading cause of casualties in the capital.”

Meanwhile, Boshra is at a loss of what to do as her family members, like so many Yemeni civilians, are trapped in the fighting.

In addition to the five family members she lost two days ago in a Saudi airstrike, her 80-year-old aunt died in the town of al-Jalilah, some 90 miles northwest of the capital, after being wounded as a result of shelling by Houthi-allied forces; the aunt was unable to reach a hospital for a month due to the fighting and finally succumbed to her injuries. In Aden, Boshra’s cousin’s husband, who is mentally ill, was shot by snipers as he was walking in the street. And a relative of her brother-in-law, a pharmacist, was kidnapped by Houthis in Sanaa last week.

“I don’t see this ending,” Boshra said with tears in her eyes. “I think things will get much worse.”

She lost her job as a reporter after the Houthis closed down the newspaper where she worked. Her husband has not received a government salary in three months. They now rely on a relative living in the United States who sends them money. She wants to leave Yemen, but with the borders closed and hardly any outbound flights from Sanaa, she remains trapped inside.

“There is nowhere safe,” she said. “I want to protect my children but everywhere is targeted. I don’t know how to protect them.”

Another day in Yemen.

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I am on the phone to a friend in Sanaa, when a bomb blast rocks her house. It is a bomb in a mosque 100 yards from the house where I used to live in Al Qaa. Today I read it is one of four mosque bombs, for which Islamic State claims responsibility. More victims. And more evidence of the spread of extremist Sunni militias in Yemen.  It is only a few days since I first heard of Islamic State’s activity in Yemen. Now it is a new and frightening phase in the civil war in Yemen.

It is a problem getting through to friends, due to the erratic electricity supply. In parts of Sanaa they have had no electricity for seven days.  When the electricity is turned on, everyone rushes to charge their phones and get to the nearest pump with their containers to get water.  “You can live without electricity,” my friend says “but we are getting worried as it is impossible to manage without water.”  Like many Yemeni families, hers are thinking they might have to travel overseas to seek refuge.  Her parents own their own house, and other properties which they rent out as a source of income. At the moment, they are hosting three other displaced families in their home. Once they leave their house, they know it will be difficult to claim their own property back. Their choice is not an easy one. My friend tells me the water situation has been eased a little as some wealthy Yemenis have paid for water tanks to be delivered to the poorer areas of Sanaa, so they think they might stay a bit longer and see if things improve.  One of the water tankers was delivering water and a bomb was dropped on them, killing the two drivers and injuring men and children who were queuing to fill their containers.

This friend, who has a degree in English and a Master’s degree in education, asks me if it would be possible for her to find work anywhere in UK.  She is worried about the insecurity of travelling without work, and with limited savings, and she doesn’t want to be a refugee – she is a proud and industrious single woman, who worked as a translator and Arabic teacher even as a student to help pay her way through university; that was how I first met her. She has been in full time employment for more than fifteen years. I tell her that there is no chance of her working anywhere in Europe. She understands.

I get an email from a British friend who lives in Dubai with her Yemeni husband. He is worried about his sister and her family who live in Sanaa, and they have been trying to get them to Dubai. Jackie and her husband have their own company, and they have been applying for their relatives to get a visa. I wanted to hear the result of their efforts, because I too have residency in Dubai and I had been thinking I could try to get a work visa for my friend Sameera’s son.  If Jackie has been successful, then I might try too. But no, they cannot get a visa.  They have made many attempts, trying to be inventive to find a route that will unlock the door to Dubai.  The answer is always no.  Another avenue closed.

So I have to ring Sameera, whom I call her my sister – she is now living in a small flat in Tarim with 18 other displaced people – I tell her this news.  She works for UNHCR, the refugee arm of the UN.  The office in Aden is closed down, but she still gets updated on the situation there, and works on the Internet when the electricity allows.  She tells me that the situation in Aden is critical. People are dying of starvation, dehydration, disease and conflict. There are no humanitarian agencies there because it is too dangerous.  We discuss what her family will do next. She says that her son and son-in-law might travel to Malaysia, the only country that has offered three month visas to Yemenis escaping the war.  We discuss whether her daughter, now pregnant because of the lack of available contraception, should go with them. I suggest to Sameera that she should go too – the whole family should travel together. I tell her, as an experienced doctor, she is the one who is most likely to find work, and her family need her.  She is surprised at my suggestion, but after a few moments, I can tell that she is considering it. Once she leaves Yemen, her job with the UN will be terminated, and she will have no income at all; it’s risky. We discuss how her three children whose degree courses have been terminated due to the war can get qualified; they were studying dentistry, medicine and engineering. I promise to continue working on it; with little electricity and poor Wi-Fi, they rely on me to contact universities throughout the world.

In a text when she fled from Aden, Sameera said “My dear, for the first time, I feel so fragile and helpless. I can’t think, act or plan, all I do is cooking and wait for what tomorrow will bring. (War????? Peace????? Victory?????) My mind is completely paralysed. But God has sent me you to do the thinking, the planning, and the support”.  This woman, who has single-handedly brought up a family of four amazing children and ensured that they all went to university, who worked in a senior post with the UN, who scrimped and saved to build her own beautiful house – now destroyed, who has lobbied and fought for the human rights of refugees, of women – to change laws so that they could have contraception without the permission of their husband, to prevent female genital mutilation. This woman; who set an example to other Yemeni women by just living her life; demonstrating that Yemeni women did not have to stay in violent or unsatisfactory marriages; they could be single and independent mothers, useful members of society, who are respected and loved.

I tell her, you will get through this, you will have a very different future, but it will still be happy and worthwhile.  She says, if I travel to Malaysia, can you come to visit me?  Of course.

I ring her daughter; she was due to take her final exams this year as a dentist. She is working as a volunteer, today assisting a surgeon who is working on the face of someone who had sustained severe injuries in the conflict. It was very interesting, she said. We discuss courses that she might be able to take in UK – she has had to accept she will never be a dentist now, as her faculty has been destroyed and she cannot get verification for nearly five years study. I have a positive lead for a Master’s degree in Public Health; she is pleased.  We discuss her pregnancy. She is still feeling very sick; she thinks the nausea is aggravated by stress. If the baby is a girl, she is going to be named after me.

Another day for courageous and generous Yemenis, forced to make such difficult choices and just get on with living.  And another day for one of the many people who have loved ones in Yemen.  We will prevail.