Expelled from Saudi Arabia, down and out

Hundreds of families living in an arid slum 17km north of al-Hudeidah City, western Yemen, say they ended up there after having been expelled from Saudi Arabia after the 1991 Gulf War.

The residents have been living in extreme poverty in shacks made of straw, cardboard and tin for 17 years, and without electricity, or proper toilets. The slum is known as “Returnees Camp”.

Yemen supported the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait; the expulsion of Yemeni migrant workers and their families from Saudi Arabia was seen as a “punishment” for that support. Thousands of expelled families are still living in and around al-Hudeidah city.

Ali Yusuf Hafjaa, a slum leader, said they first came to al-Hudeidah City but were only allowed to stay there for two months. "The authorities did not allow us to camp inside the city and so gave us this piece of land to live on," he told IRIN.

He said there were about 180 families in the slum. "Each family consists of 10-22 people," he said, noting that the number of families in the slum had declined slightly over the years.

"We live in despair”

Photo: Mohammed al-Jabri/IRIN
There is only one water well in the slum, but no piped water network

Hafjaa bemoaned the miserable conditions and lack of facilities: Basic services like water, electricity and clinics do not exist. There is a well (built last year) and Yemen’s Social Development Fund established a primary school two years ago.

"We live in despair within despair. Words cannot describe our conditions. We are very frustrated. What kind of life do we live?" he said.

He said malaria and diarrhoea were common, and meals consisted only of bread and potatoes. "During summer… flies attack the slum, causing skin and other diseases," he said.

He also complained of government neglect: "There is no benefit from the government. They have given us promise after promise but have never fulfilled any… They take notes and fill in forms, but they do not do anything for us," he said, adding that officials only ever visited in the run-up to elections.

"We live with snakes”

Photo: Mohammed al-Jabri/IRIN
of the slum have been living in extreme poverty in shacks made of
straw, cardboard and tin for 17 years, and without electricity, or
proper toilets

"The sick die… before they can get to the main road to get a lift to hospital. There’s no transport - not even a donkey,” he said.

He said snakes and scorpions were a constant worry. "We live with snakes. Every day we kill snakes coming to our slum. They frighten our children," he said.

Last year the slum-dwellers got together and dug a well. "Before that we were drinking from a dirty pond," Hafjaa said.

Maher al-Qurashi, an official at Abi Musa al-Ashaari, a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) in al-Hudeidah, said his organisation assists the slum dwellers during the main Muslim religious events of the year.

"We give them some food items, clothes and provide their children with school bags,” said al-Qurashi.