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MENAFN - Khaleej Times - 05/12/2013

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(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Two shrouded black figures sit in the middle of the road, barely moving. One of the figures is holding a small child. Cars approach, some toot, but the niqabed figures do not waver. Every now and then a car slows down and deposits a handful of coins.

The two figures are refugees from Syria, forced to leave their homes and livelihoods in exchange for a life on the street, living hand to mouth. This has become a common sight on Yemen's roads.

Latest estimates suggest more than 2.5 million Syrians have fled their country since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011. While most have gone to neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, the UN estimates several thousand are in Yemen too which is already home to a quarter of a million other refugees from around the region, not to mention the more than half a million internally displaced. My translator Ekrum, a 20-something educated, articulate graphic designer from Aden who breaks all the stereotypes I've ever heard about Yemeni women, says she has seen a lot of Syrian refugees pouring in to the country.

"It's really sad. They come here and ask for money. They used to have houses and they used to have lives and all of it's gone and they're now here and they're poor."

It is mostly women who take up this occupation, though it is not unusual to see them with their families. In this case, the young child is six months old, a boy named Hamada. The women, from Dera'a, say they have been in Yemen for five months.

"The war started in Damascus? But Dera'a was the worst hit."

They left Syria a year ago, but spent the first seven months in a refugee camp in Jordan before moving on.

"There was no freedom in the camp," the older woman, Hanan, 30, explains.

While there was food and supplies in the camp, "we didn't want to be trapped in one place."

Back in pre-war Syria, the women, who are sisters-in-law, had a good life. They were independent, middle class and owned a bakery.

"It's very hard, it's strange, it's sad. This had never happened to us before, it's not easy."

Despite being in the situation for a year, their newly impecunious life feels like a bad dream.

"Our children used to be at school. Now they're in the street, asking for money."

However, the decision to move to Yemen has not proven economically successful, and the women, along with their husbands and 10 children, are now trying to return to Jordan.

"We have to pay 3000 Rial per day (at our hotel here), that's the problem we face."

For a poor country, the people in Yemen have been very generous. The women get between 5000 and 10,000 rials each day. The rest of their children are off begging in other locations, while their husbands sell beaded necklaces made by the women.

They say no one else is giving them money, and they have no other choice but continue their current occupation.

"We have to stay in the middle of the road," 25-year-old Eman says.

But there is a place that is preferable to the middle of the road.

"We want to go back to Jordan, and then when Syria is getting better, to go back there."

First, they must scrape together the 60,000 Rial necessary for the passage back to Jordan. They say they decided to come to Yemen as the country is also poor so they expected people would be sympathetic. They say they have been, but the expenses in the country are surprisingly high.

In the middle of our conversation, another woman approaches. Her name is Lula Saeed, and she works with jailed children. She says it distresses her to see these women in the middle of the road, especially with their young.

"This is not right, there must be an organisation or some responsible place that will get them out of here. Some women are going to have a problem, there will be a truck that hits them.

"Why is no one looking after them?" While there have been no reports about Syrian refugees getting hit, previously Yemeni beggars adopting the same strategy had been. Saeed is not just worried about the women getting hit.

"We know some people have been raped."

But in a country that has refugees from all over the region, including the Horn of Africa, as well as internally, it is a difficult task trying to look after all of the neglected and poor.

Lula tries desperately to get the women to move, at least to the side of the road, but the women's resolve is strong.

"I want to stay here," Eman tells her. They say they are not worried about their safety "God will save us" and anyway it is financially advantageous to run the risk.

"Nobody sees us on the side. We're sitting in the middle of the road so people see us."

 






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