By Brandon Gillet
A uOttawa student has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help refugees who are sheltering from Yemen’s deadly conflict in the impoverished neighbouring country of Djibouti. Fourth-year biomedical science student Zein Ahmed also hopes to raise awareness of the “forgotten” war that has killed 10,000 Yemenis and displaced more than two million others.
Ahmed aims to reach her $8,000 fundraising goal by December 22. She will then fly to Djibouti and take badly needed supplies to refugees living in dismal conditions in the Markazi camp near the town of Obock.
“I have family in both Yemen and Djibouti who are affected by this crisis, so I wanted to go and help people there in a hands-on way,” she said.
As she made plans to visit relatives in Djibouti over the holidays, Ahmed began to look for a way to help deal with the humanitarian crisis in the region. She learned that more than 180,000 Yemenis have fled to nearby countries to escape the 20-month-old civil war.
Ahmed, who was born in Ottawa of Yemeni-Djiboutian parentage, will take medicine with her from Canada. After arriving in Djibouti, she plans to buy food, clothing and hygiene products that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has identified as needed. She has met with the UNHCR representative in Canada to coordinate her efforts with those of the UN in Djibouti, and to arrange transportation to the camp.
“My dad’s family is from Taiz in Yemen, which has recently become unstable due to the war,” she said. “Our relatives have had to flee to the capital, Sana’a, which isn’t much safer, so they are still suffering through this conflict.”
The refugee camp Ahmed will visit was built somewhat hastily after the conflict began, she says. Dehydration is a serious problem in the camp, which is located in an extremely hot, dry area with frequent sandstorms.
“A lot of kids come from Yemen sick and there isn’t enough medical help for them as refugees, so they just get worse,” she said. “That compounds the unstable conditions in Djibouti itself, which has its own food, work and medical challenges. It’s hard enough for them to take care of their own people, let alone 36,000 refugees.”
Ahmed says that more than 80% of Yemen’s population of 25 million need humanitarian assistance.
“When I try to describe the situation in Yemen, I tell people, what you are seeing in the civil war in Syria, it’s exactly like that in Yemen,” she said.