Yemen’s war: photo essay

Yemen's war: photo essay 6
People caught in the crossfire of conflict in Hodeidah leave their homes with their belongings in search of safety, with some receiving emergency assistance from pro-government forces

“When you are a photographer you learn how to snatch a photo,” said Asmaa Waguih, an Egyptian photojournalist who works in warzones. “I think I learnt as a photographer to make use of any opportunity…sometimes photography comes one hour here, and then one hour there, before people tell you to go.”

Waguih spoke to The Ferret ahead of the launch of her new book – Unfinished War: A Journey Through Civil War in Yemen – which documents everyday life in a war-ravaged country once thought to be the realm of the Queen of Sheba.

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Children and youth carrying weapons perform a tribal dance to zawamel songs to boost fighter morale

An independent photojournalist with over 20 years experience, Waguih previously worked for Reuters News Agency, covering wars in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

She lives in Cairo but has travelled to Yemen regularly since 2016 to document a conflict largely ignored by the mainstream media in Britain since it erupted 10 years ago. 

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Pictures for Houthi “martyrs” who died either during the fighting or in a bomb explosion are hanged at the old city walls of buildings, central Sanaa’, Yemen, April 15, 2016. EPA/ Asmaa Waguih

It’s a war The Ferret has reported on since our foundation in 2015 due to the UK’s role in arming an international coalition supporting Yemeni government forces, who are fighting Houthi rebels backed by Iran.

Britain has backed the Saudi-led coalition by providing bombs for coalition attacks, leading to allegations the UK has been complicit in alleged war crimes due to civilian targets being bombed. And the RAF bombed Houthi targets in Yemen this week in an attempt, the UK Government said, to stop attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea.

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A member of the Tihana brigade is seen near the frontline position in Hodeidah

The war has killed more than 160,000 people, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, and more than four million people have been displaced from their homes.

Given the scale of the conflict in Yemen, Waguih’s access on the ground has been remarkable. Having set up a network of tribesmen, fighters and civilians, she entered areas forbidden to outsiders, travelling from the Houthi-run capital, Sana’a, to other regions and cities including Southern Taiz, Hodeidah (overseeing the Red Sea) and the strategic coastal town of Aden.

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Women queue to receive humanitarian assistance at the distribution point in Amran

“I had my camera taken from me two times, I would take a photo quickly, thinking nobody would notice me, but they would erase pictures.”

Inside Sana’a, a city situated in a mountain valley at an altitude of 2,200 metres, Waguih saw militiamen, many just youngsters, roaming the city wearing a mix of military jackets and the traditional Yemeni Mi’waz, a thin patterned cotton or linen fabric wrapped around the legs like a skirt. “They criss-crossed the city in pick-up trucks, flaunting weapons that look too big for a child to carry,” she said.

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A fisherman in Aden holds up a large fish like an assault rifle as a child looks on

“It wasn’t easy to reach the front line but many times I got help from the local fighters. Tareq’s forces appeared to be the best trained as they used to be part of the regular army during the former regime and they accepted journalists, unlike the Salafists members who were fighting fiercely but were cautious of the media.” 

In Hodeidah, the combat was fierce, she recalled, with fighters talking about “thermal missiles” used by the Houthi forces. “The coast was littered with landmines…a Tihama commander I interviewed was killed by a landmine a few days after we spoke.”

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A view of the old city of Sana’a notable for its distinctive architectural character expressed in multistorey buildings decorated with geometric patterns

Waguih also travelled to Aden, a centre of education in Yemen with a colourful mix of Indian architecture and traditional Yemeni houses. “Somali, Indians and Farsis – people from modern day Iran – all lived in Aden. The city was a melting pot of people, religions and ideas.”

Unfinished War: A Journey Through Civil War in Yemen – a book of 150 colour photographs – will be published on 11 June.

Transcription by Leah Flint.

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