Anas al-Shaarani, 15, was forced to flee Yemen amid a raging armed conflict between Iran-aligned Houthi rebels and Saudi-backed government forces.
“The ongoing war in Yemen forced me to leave the country in 2019 as it was no longer suitable for living,” al-Shaarani told Anadolu Agency on Sunday on the occasion of the World Refugee Day.
“My father used to work as a teacher, but because of the absence of salaries for more than three years and the difficulty to find other jobs, he could not afford the expenses of our seven-member family.”
Al-Shaarani decided to leave the war-ravaged country for Europe when his older brother joined Houthi rebels.
“As my older brother went fighting with the Houthi rebels, I decided to migrate abroad to help my father,” he said.
The Yemeni teenager left Yemen for Egypt and from there he travelled to Niger, Mali and Algeria before settling in Morocco where he stayed with other Yemeni asylum seekers for nine months under the protection of UN refugee agency UNHCR, which pays for their housing and a cash payment of $50-100 per month.
Yemen fell into civil war in 2014 when Houthi rebels overran much of the country, including the capital Sanaa. The conflict escalated when a Saudi-led coalition launched a massive air campaign aimed at rolling back the Houthi military gains.
According to the UNHCR’s annual Global Trends report, nearly 82.4 million people have been displaced by wars, violence, persecution and human rights violations in 2020.
The report said that by the end of 2020, there were 20.7 million refugees under the UNHCR mandate, 48 million internally displaced within their own countries, including Afghanistan, Colombia, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Sudan and Yemen, and 4.1 million were asylum-seekers.
In May, al-Shaarani tried to swim from the city of Ceuta and cross barbed-wire fences to get into Spain, but with no luck.
“When we heard of the opening of borders in the city of Ceuta, I tried to cross into Spain, but we were repressed and tear-gassed by Spanish forces. I was injured in the leg,” al-Shaarani said. “After two days of trying, I managed to go back to Nador city where I live now,” he said.
Al-Shaarani recalled that when he was in Egypt, he applied for resettlement at the UNHCR office, but his application was rejected.
“While other nationalities like Eritreans and Sudanese get accepted, Yemenis are rejected and I don’t know why,” he said.
Regardless of the dangers facing him during his asylum journey, al-Shaarani said that his goal is to reach the Netherlands to complete his education and help his family with the money he hopes to earn there.
“My mother asks me to come back, but my father prefers to keep me away from war,” al-Shaarani explained.
Salman al-Masqari, 25, is another Yemeni asylum seeker who wishes to travel to Sweden for a better life.
“There, I will get a decent job and live under law that respects different beliefs and allows free expression of opinion,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Al-Masqari said he has lost six of his friends during the armed conflict in Yemen. “I found myself alone and came to the conclusion that I cannot live in Yemen any longer,” he said.
The Yemeni civilian said he was arrested and his home raided after writing a post on Facebook. “I was being hunted because of my political thoughts. I had to choose either to remain silent or get arrested, but I chose to run away.”
There are 40 Yemenis, including five teenagers and a woman, in Morocco who are trying to travel to Europe for different reasons, but all agreed that escaping from the scourge of war and instability in their country is the solution to their problems.
“I managed to swim to the Spanish side of the border and slipped behind the gate, but I was taken back to Morocco. I tried once again but failed again,” al-Masqari said. “Despite the heavy security presence, I am still trying to get across every day until I succeed.”
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Yemeni conflict has claimed more than 233,000 lives since 2014.
In 2020 alone, approximately 172,000 people became uprooted, giving Yemen the fourth largest number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the world, according to the UN.