Domestic abuse adds to Yemeni refugee women’s woes in Djibouti

Markazi Refugee Camp, Djibouti
Markazi Refugee Camp, Djibouti

Hafsa says she feels trapped.

War forced her to flee her home in Yemen to Djibouti with her husband three years ago.

Little opportunities or hope of returning have left her restless in a remote refugee camp more than 200km from Djibouti’s capital and just 32km from Yemen’s western coast.

The situation has created tension between 36-year-old Hafsa and her husband. But because she is a woman, she says she has no outlet for sharing her struggles.

“Because of the frustrating mood in the camp and bad circumstances and weather and my jobless husband and lack of income overall it is a dispute,” Hafsa said

The mother of three, including a daughter from her current marriage and two older children from her first who still live in Yemen, jabs her hand with frustration in the air as she describes her situation.

Her face, outlined by a pearly pink hijab (headscarf), is fair and unlined, making her look younger than her age, but her voice is strained.

“I cannot talk and express my feelings to others because the problems or the dispute between me and husband might become more complicated,” she says.

She adds other refugee women are abused by their husbands, but fear speaking out due to the stigma associated with domestic abuse.

“We are suffering from tradition,” Hafsa says. “Before the war, we were suffering many troubles, many problems from the society itself in Yemen, the people and the pressure from traditions. The war came just to push us out to come to Djibouti, but it is the wrong place,” she adds.

“We feel weak and vulnerable and attackable.”

Hafsa is one of the thousands of Yemenis who have fled to Djibouti during more than in three years of war between Yemen’s government, supported by a Saudi-led coalition, and the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. To date, more than 40,000 Yemenis have made the treacherous journey across the Bab-El-Mandeb Strait, known as the Gate of Tears because it has claimed so many migrant and refugee lives. It connects the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden along Djibouti’s eastern coast.

At the peak, there were more than 7,000 Yemenis living in Markazi. As of May 2018, the number had dwindled to just under 2,000, less than half of the total 4,300 Yemenis in Djibouti.