Returning Kenyans recall Yemen nightmare
130 Kenyans to have been evacuated from war-ravaged Yemen so far
Najah Ahmed, a Kenyan mother of four, had lived in Al-Mukalla, capital of Yemen’s southern Hadhramaut province, for 17 years.
But recent fighting between Yemeni government forces and Shiite Houthi militants has forced her to leave her second home.
“When the fighting erupted in Aden after Sanaa, we were worried,” she told The Anadolu Agency in an interview after returning to her native Mombasa, Kenya’s second-largest city.
“We were in fear. We were stuck in Al-Mukalla and everyone in the city was indoors,” Ahmed recalled.
Last September, the Houthis overran capital Sanaa, from which the group later extended its control to other parts of the country as well.
Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi later fled Houthi house arrest in Sanaa to the southern city of Aden, which he declared a “temporary capital” pending the liberation of Sanaa.
On March 25, Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies began an extensive air and naval campaign against Houthi positions across Yemen after the Shiite militants marched on Aden.
“When the fighting between the Houthis and government soldiers reached Shabwa [province], I knew we were in great danger, as Shabwa is right next to Al-Mukalla,” Ahmed told AA.
Like the rest of the local population, they feared the fighting was coming into their backyard.
“These fighters had no mercy and would bomb indiscriminately; they would not care if one was civilian or not,” Ahmed said in Swahili, Kenya’s national language.
She said Al-Mukalla had turned into a ghost town, with all government offices, schools, banks, post offices and shops having closed their doors.
“Everyone was indoors; nobody was going to work,” she recalled.
They soon ran out of the food supplies they had stored up.
“We never got any assistance,” said Ahmed. “We were all by ourselves.”
The recent escalation of violence has created a humanitarian disaster in Yemen, the Middle East’s poorest country with a population of almost 26 million.
According to Oxfam, a global relief group, 16 million Yemenis – over 60 percent of the population – had already been reliant on aid to survive before the conflict.
Hamdan Bawazir, a 42-year-old Kenyan, lived in Aden for 12 years with his Yemeni wife and two children.
“There was fighting between the Houthi militia and government soldiers on the outskirts of Aden not far from the seaport,” he told AA after his return to Kenya.
“For two weeks, I had not opened my two shops; all shops in Aden were closed,” recalled Bawazir, who sells and exports Abayas, perfume and jewelry from Yemen to Kenya.
He said the larger of his two shops had been looted.
“I lost almost 3 million [Kenyan] shillings,” said Bawazir. “The whole building was destroyed by artillery shelling.”
“I managed to save all I could in the second shop and left it with my in-laws,” he added.
Ahmed and Bawazir are among 130 Kenyan nationals to have recently been evacuated from war-ravagedYemen.
The Kenyans, most of whom hail from the coastal city of Mombasa, had mostly lived in Yemen’s Sanaa, Aden, Shabwah and Hadhramaut provinces.
Kenyan Ambassador to Oman Mohammed Dor managed to contact Kenyan nationals in Yemen and coordinate their evacuation plans.
“We were told we would be evacuated. That was a big relief for me and all Kenyans in Yemen,” Ahmed told AA.
“Arrangements were made for us to travel from Al-Mukalla to the Omani border,” she recalled.
“We went, groups of Kenyans, some coming from Sanaa and others from Aden,” she added.
“Our instructions were to reach the border of Oman, and, from there, the Omani army escorted us all the way to capital Muscat,” said Ahmed.
Her Yemeni husband was also evacuated, along with her and her four children.
“When Aden became very insecure, I tried several times to get a dhow [traditional sailing vessel] to Somalia; but all the dhows were full and the trip is dangerous,” Bawazir told AA.
“Thank God I managed to get out of Aden, but it was a long trip to Oman,” he recalled.
There are no clear records regarding the number of Kenyans living in Yemen.
“I know of some Kenyans from Mombasa still stuck in Sanaa,” Bawazir told AA. “I don’t know their fate.”
Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Mining Najib Balala, who himself is a Kenyan of Yemeni descent, said the government was doing all it could to ensure that Kenyan nationals return safe from Yemen.
“This is not the end of the evacuation,” he told AA. “I call upon all Kenyans to please contact our embassy in Oman.”
Meanwhile, Ahmed, her Yemeni husband and four children are currently living at her family’s home in Mombasa’s upmarket Kizingo estate.
They have not yet decided whether or not they will return to Yemen once peace there is restored.
“I am glad to be back home,” Ahmed told AA. “Yemen is on fire; I am glad I am back home in Mombasa.”
Bawazir, the businessman, is likely to settle in Mombasa and run his business from there.
“I used to export perfumes, Abayas and wedding gowns to Kenya. I will continue from there with the little savings I have,” he told AA.
“I know it’s not going to be easy,” he added. “It will be the beginning of a new life for my children and wife in Kenya.”