Almost 5 years of war have devastated Yemen, a country with more than 20 million inhabitants at the eastern edge of the Arabian world. Fought between a Saudi-Arabian led coalition, supposedly Iranian backed insurgents, and multiple other factions, the war has depleted the livelihood of Yemenis and destroyed social bonds. At least one million people have left the country, following the footsteps of generations who have emigrated before.
While Yemenis have left to labor abroad for centuries, the country has hosted large numbers of Somali refugees since the early 1990s. Nowadays the routes for Yemeni refugees towards Europe is blocked by one of the driest deserts in the world and closed borders to countries that treat Yemenis as security threats. The route for refugees has reversed, or in parts it has become a crossroad, from Yemen to Africa and from Africa to Yemen.
In Africa, Yemeni refugees merge into diaspora communities, and local communities alike, just like generations did before. Centuries of back and forth migration have created intertwined life-stories between people and nations.
Asad arrived just a week ago. After enduring the war and hardships for years, he made it across the sea with the help of Somali fisherman, who brought him ashore near the small port of Berbera in Somaliland.
Nyusha is the daughter of a Yemeni father and a Somali-Ethiopian mother. Born and raised in Addis Ababa, she's growing up as a member of an almost century old, affluent community in the Ethiopian capital.
Yussuf goes by the name Joe and, as he old, New York is where he acquired his thick American accent. He left his native country Yemen 3 years ago, and now, he's“hustling back to the top”.
Khader is a road cyclist, who has represented Yemen in international races. During training sessions on public roads, he got threatened by armies and insurgents one too many times. Unable to join a team, he keeps on cycling, be it in Djibouti, Somaliland or Ethiopia.
Weeks before her final exams, Amira's university in Sana'a closed due to the war. Unable to pursue her studies in Engineering, she started studying Medicine in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. Her son was born in a refugee camp on the route.
Hussein has made a small fortune. While many left Yemen, he stayed and has continued to export and import goods. That includes exporting coffee from Yemen, a business that relies on the coffee infrastructure in Ethiopia and Kenya.
Not just lucky individuals, whole groups flourish in times of war. Mustafa represents the Islah Party, the Yemeni offspring of the Muslim brotherhood and he travels all over East Africa for business. In the capitals of East African nations, morals are maybe not compatible with conservative values, but the needs of Arab businessmen are taken care of.
While strict interpretations of the Quran have come to dominate Yemen, many liberally minded Yemenis have left. Ismail has immersed to a more liberal society, adopted a new lifestyle and even the Christian faith dominant in Ethiopia.
Mohammed and Mustafa
Mohammed doesn't remember the war, while his older brother Mustafa is heavily traumatized. While basic education is provided in Somaliland, there is very little assistance for children with special needs.
Saeed has made his way across the Gulf of Aden and through disputed territories in Somalia, he has been detained by militias and the police, in official police stations and makeshift prisons in abandoned gas stations – before making it to safety.
Kareem is from Egypt and used to work for a tech company in Saudi-Arabia. After a legal scrimmage over a bankruptcy, he was imprisoned, his passport was withheld, and he had to leave the country on foot - through the desert, through Yemen, through Somaliland and further.
Abdulrahman could open a small restaurant in Ethiopia. While his family in the rural highlands of Yemen are relatively safe, all employment opportunities got depleted at home. From Africa he can send money to provide for his daughters.
Fuat builds interiors for small shops and interiors in Somaliland – an industry that is more and more dominated by carpenters from Yemen, who are known for building on a century old tradition of beautifully decorated palaces and mosques.
Faia got married to her Yemeni husband while working in Saudi Arabia. With the beginning of the war, he got expelled, and she had to leave too, as her visa dependent on his. With their daughter Samira, she moved back in to her parents in northern Ethiopia, while her husband is still in Yemen.
Abdikareem and Kaafiyo
Abdikareem is an Ethiopian Somali who dreamed of a better life working in Dubai, but he only made to a refugee camp in Yemen from where he recently returned. Kaafiyo's brother is still detained in Yemen.