Cash Assistance Ensures Fit for Purpose Humanitarian Support for Displaced People in Ma’rib, Yemen

Published Date: 
Sunday, July 4, 2021

Ma’rib - “I bought a cell phone to call my son. I have not seen him in a long time,” said 65-year-old Fatima, one of the estimated 1 million displaced people living in Yemen’s Ma’rib governorate.

She recently received cash assistance from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), as part of a project made possible through European Union (EU) humanitarian support. She was concerned about her son’s whereabouts so one of her greatest needs was to have a means of communication with her family from whom she is separated. This meant she knew exactly what the first purchase with her cash would be.

“I was told that my son is in Saudi Arabia and that he is very well, but I am worried about whether that is true or if he is really in a dangerous place where there is fighting. I missed talking to him. I do not want anything from him. I just want to make sure that he is alive and well. He is my youngest. I have already lost one of my sons and their father to this war,” explained Fatima, a widow and mother of seven, who is currently living with her two other sons and two of her three daughters.

“I have my other two sons with me. One of them has had psychologically problems for awhile because of experiencing fighting firsthand,” she added, going into further detail on his recent uncharacteristic violence and her concerns for his future.

The family moved several times, as the conflict continued to catch up with them. The first time they were displaced was about three years ago. They moved around Ma’rib governorate in search of safety and assistance until they finally reached Al Jufainah Camp, Yemen’s largest displacement site, where they are living today.

Fatima’s third daughter is married and lives with her husband’s family. Without a steady income, she is worried about providing for her other daughters in the long term. Like many Yemeni families, she is considering marriage as, not just a union of families or love, but a source stability and safety during the conflict and economic crisis.

“I might make them [my daughters] marry soon, especially the youngest one who keeps asking for things that I cannot provide,” she said.

Displaced people in Yemen face challenges when trying to gain employment and afford goods in the market. Assistance is also limited in Ma’rib given the sheer number of people displaced sheltering there. Displacement sites are overcrowded and services are limited. Local capacities like that of civil society, the community and authorities are also overstretched.

Multipurpose cash assistance provides displaced people with flexibility in terms of how they assess and prioritize their own needs. For Fatima, the first thing she bought was a phone but for others, it could be different. With the remainder of her cash assistance, she said that she will use it to buy medicine for her son for whom she cares and food.

“I am worried because I am a widow and I have no one to help me or look after me. Life is hard,” she added. Fatima began to count her money as she spoke about the second call she will place with her phone, after her son, to her mother whose health she is worried about. Then her serious expression changed to laughter and she said: “I can only count to ten”.   

Mohammed imprints his thumb on documents to receive his cash assistance as a displaced person in Ma’rib. Photo: IOM 2021/Elham Oqabi

Thirty-five-year-old Mohammed is another head of a displaced household in Ma’rib. He and his family first fled their farm and home in 2015 when the conflict broke out. Originating from Sirwah, a district in Ma’rib governorate, they are now living in Ma’rib city where they only arrived recently.

“We fled with nothing except the clothes we were wearing. After we got here, I wanted to return to our last displacement site to get some of our things like our gas cylinder, mattresses and blankets. But I was advised not to because they were already taken and that I would not come back alive because that area is affected by heavy clashes,” said Mohammed, who is expecting his fourth child with his wife in ten days.

Through EU humanitarian support, Mohammed received sum of 117,000 Yemeni Rials (YER) [approximately 120 United States Dollars] from IOM, which newly displaced families are entitled to. He said that the assistance would help him buy basic necessities for his family.

“With that sum of cash, I will buy food, only food,” he said, going on to explain that food is his biggest worry. Not only does he have to provide for his children, but he is supporting his parents as well.

“My parents are old and not welling to eat but they will take anything from the market. My kids are still young—the youngest one is two—and so are in need of specific kinds of food, and my wife is pregnant and in need of care and food. I also try to help my extended family when they come to us for support like with food or a place to stay,” he added.

Under the EU-IOM project, over 15,000 people were supported with core relief aid items in a year, including people like Fatima and Mohammed who were provided cash to lead the own response to their own needs.

This story was written by Elham Al Oqabi and edited by Olivia Headon from the IOM Yemen communications team