War forces Yemen high school students to flee to capital to take exams

Fighting in a port city in Yemen has forced around 2,000 high school students to flee to the capital to sit exams, braving a six-hour journey along a mountain road scarred by land mines and aerial bombardment.

The boys and girls started arriving on June 21 for the university entrance exams having left Hodeidah because of a battle that began on June 12 between Houthi rebels aligned to Iran and a coalition led by Saudi Arabia.

“We were comfortable in our city in Hodeidah, relaxed, not thinking of war and then we were surprised with this war that forced us to move to Sanaa, and affected us in our education, our livelihood and everything else,” said Ahmed Shawky.

The students are now staying in schools or with friends and relatives and their reception is an example of how Houthi authorities are trying to ease social frustrations in the territory they control.

“We have received almost 2,000 students (from Hodeidah) who were distributed across Sanaa’s schools and other schools close to Hodeidah … We have offered all the necessary help to the displaced students,” said Ali Al Saqaf, an official from Amanat al-Asimah province that includes the capital.

The Hodeidah battle is the biggest in the three-year war and the United Nations fears it risks triggering a famine in a country where an estimated 8.4 million people risk starvation. The battle has calmed in the last week, but thousands have fled and many others remain trapped because of landmines.

At the Sayf bin Dhi-Yazan school in Sanaa, displaced students waiting to sit exams gathered near a garbage dump by the school gates. Political graffiti celebrating Houthi fighters hung in the narrow streets nearby.

Some of the students sat outside the school to which they have been assigned and recited verses from the Koran in a bid to revise for questions that could come up in the exams.

The Western-backed coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 to restore the internationally recognized government in exile, but since then neither side has made much progress in a conflict seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The coalition has conducted thousands of air strikes against Houthi fighters and has often hit civilian areas, although it denies doing so intentionally. The Houthis have launched rockets into Saudi territory, including at the capital Riyadh.