Yemen: Returning to Abyan

4 June, 2013
Nabil (left) has been living in this school in the port city of Aden in southern Yemen for the past year. He and his family fled fighting between the government and militants in Abyan in 2012. Credit: OCHA Yemen
Nabil (left) has been living in this school in the port city of Aden in southern Yemen for the past year. He and his family fled fighting between the government and militants in Abyan in 2012. Credit: OCHA Yemen

Abo Ghanim School sits in a valley shaded by a series of rocky outcrops in the bustling port city of Aden in southern Yemen. It is here that Nabil Salem Abubaker, 54, has lived with his wife and seven children for the past year. They sleep in a classroom in one part of the school, while students attend classes in the other rooms.

“I would like to go back to Abyan, but it is not safe for me because I was a security official,” he explained. “Here, life is tough and only one of my children goes to school.”

Nabil was living in Zinjibar in Abyan when, in May 2011, militants seized controlled of the city and surrounding areas. He and his family fled to Aden.

Nabil’s family is one of 26 displaced families still living in the compound of Abo Ghanim School. In January, there were 53 families, but the others have now returned to Abyan. There are five other centres in Aden Governorate, housing 127 displaced families.

Nabil’s neighbour, Thabit Hussein, 70, originally from Shoqra town in Abyan, said he did not want to go back because life was easier at the centre. “I have health problems and it’s easier to get medical treatment here,” he said. “Five of my 10 children have gone back. I’m here with my wife and five children.”

Between May 2011 when militants first seized control and May 2012 when government forces launched a counter-offensive, more than 200,000 people were forced to flee Abyan. In June 2012, the military said they had ousted the al-Qaeda-linked militants who controlled much of the area. Since December, the situation has gradually improved.

Helping people return

Since the end of 2012, the Government and the UN estimate that about 97 per cent of the people who were displaced by the violence have returned to Abyan. But many have returned to find basic services, such as access to education, lacking.

“The majority of displaced people have gone back home, but significant gaps still exist in humanitarian needs,” said Mona Duale, head of OCHA’s office in southern Yemen. “We need to restore basic services so that the people who have returned can stay there, and can quickly rebuild their lives.”

At the beginning of the year, OCHA held a two-day consultative meeting with community leaders from Khanfar and Zinjibar Districts of Abyan -- the two districts most badly affected by the conflict. The community leaders outlined the most pressing priorities, including the restoration of basic services, support for people to re-establish their livelihoods and support to young people.

Over the past few months, there have been improvements in the availability of basic services and many markets have re-opened. The improved security situation has also allowed UN agencies and humanitarian partners to increase their activities.

But more improvements are needed, and in their absence some still remain reluctant to return to Abyan.

Back at Abo Ghanim, Nabil takes a puff on his cigarette. “All I want is an assurance of my security,” he explains. “Once that happens, I will quickly go back to Abyan. Here, we do not receive enough assistance and the Government wants us to leave.”

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