October 2010 – Fatima’s heart is overburdened with suffering and hardship. Her eyes tell more sorrow than people can think. Her expression seems distant, indifferent, searching for oblivion or perhaps simply new hope. Her story is one woman’s personal yet intensely human tragedy, but it is also a testimony of courage, the courage to struggle and move in the hope of and shaping a new life.
Fatima is only 17 years old. She is one of the hundreds of women that fled to Yemen from the intensified warfare that slammed the Somali capital Mogadishu during September. She clutches her seven months daughter tightly to her chest while reporting to the registration staff at the Danish Refugee Council about the tragic situation. “There are endless worries and great insecurity in my homeland.” She sighs. With deep sadness she recalls it was her husband’s death that urged her to leave. “Armed groups fought into our district and one day, my husband, while walking in the street, was shot by an unknown group.” Losing him meant that Fatima and her daughter lost their sole support system. Nevertheless, hope is often stronger than sorrow. She immediately resolved to flee Somalia to Yemen, the country where she has her mother, with whom she wants to reconnect.
Fatima describes at great length how arduous the journey was, how she and her young daughter faced many difficulties finding food and water and how they often went without. She followed the route used by the majority of desperate migrants, out of South-central Somalia and north through Somaliland. Moreover, like most migrants, she had to depend on brokers to cross at Loyada on the Djibouti border in order to make it to Obock. It was in Obock that she was raped by the smuggler. Remembering this ordeal, Fatima’s voice breaks. “I can’t, and I don’t want to talk about this. It was a traumatic experience in my life”. Upon arrival in Kharaz Campo, Fatima was referred to Psychosocial support with UNHCR partner INTERSOS.
Protection monitoring and registration trends for 2010 have highlighted that an increasing number of women travel to Yemen on their own. Fatima is one of 16 unaccompanied minors who reported being victims of rape and gender based violence during their journey to Yemen in September 2010. Between January and August this year, another 56 refugees and migrants were victims of sexual and gender- based violence, including rape, sexual assaults, and battery during their journey. Second hand reports indicate that the number may be higher, however many women choose not to report it because of various cultural reasons, such as poor perceptions of women who have been sexually abused.
* Named changed for protection reasons. The image is for illustrative purposes only and is not the woman featured in the story.
* The story is related to the month of September; figures are as of 30th September, 2010
By DRC Yemen
Photo by Rocco Nuri