Despite hearing of other families feeling, Ali had not thought it would happen to him. But only two weeks ago, early on 6 May, airstrikes hit his extended family on the farm where they worked.

Just like his father before him, Ali Ibrahim had spent most of his life as a farm labourer, in his home village of Al-Jar. 
 
It was hard work but peaceful, planting vegetables like tomatoes, onion and garlic. Most of Ali’s extended family worked alongside him on the same farm. Though his income was only YR1,000 (less than two dollars) a day, it was enough to support his own family of seven children.
 
“My brothers and I have been working on the farm for 15 years. We built oshas (straw huts) on the farm and we lived there, as we spent most of our time on the farm,” Ali says.

The war first intruded on them in 2015, when the price of fuel doubled, forcing the farmer Ali worked to stop all work for some months. Ali was also aware that families from other areas were fleeing their homes, but didn’t think it would happen to him.
 
“During the last few months, many families from neighboring areas fled their homes towards Al-Shaqaf village, after battles reached their area. But our area was safe.”

This changed one evening. On Wednesday 6 May, warplanes started to fly over Ali’s village. He and his family didn’t sleep that night, listening to it.
 
It was morning when the first bombs fell. From less than a hundred metres away, Ali saw his cousin’s hut hit.
 
“My cousin tried to flee the farm with his family, but an airstrike hit them… Three were killed, including a few-months-old child. And four others were badly injured.”

Other strikes followed. “Eight airstrikes hit the village and the farm in few hours, and almost all residents of the village fled their houses.”

In the ensuing chaos, Ali tried to help the injured. “We saw the deaths in front of us. I took my children and the injured people to Al-Jar clinic.” Then he fled with his family to nearby Al-Shaqaf, with only the clothes they were wearing.

“We didn’t take anything with us as we left on foot. Even the dead bodies we didn’t take. Some brave people returned the second day to bury them…. It would have been death and nothing is better than life.”

Cattle were also hit by the airstrikes. No one dared to stay. 
Ali’s children were witnesses to the burnt bodies of their friends and relatives. Some cried, while others were too shocked. They have difficult sleeping now. 

“No one can believe what happened for us and we didn’t imagine it before. I met many displaced families but I wasn’t aware they witnessed such atrocious moments.”

When his family arrived in Al-Shaqaf, they found other displaced families living in tents made of plastic sheets and wood. “As soon as we arrived here, a new journey of suffering started as we don’t have money and we don’t have furniture. But we are lucky that the displaced people [already] here welcomed us.”

Ali’s family now live inside the tent of another family, who fled their house last year. Despite being in dire circumstances themselves, this family shares food, water and everything they have with Ali, who has no money to even buy a plastic sheet to set up a new tent.

“We are in need of everything, but shelter and food is priority as we don’t want to stay in others’ tents for a long time.”
Ali doesn’t know anything about the unilateral ceasefire, nor about Covid-19 and what kind of danger it represents for displaced people.
 
“I’m illiterate man and all I know is that warplanes targeted us and forced us to leave our houses, and we lost our source of incomes in this holy month,” he added.
 
Ali hopes that he can return his village and resume his work but he feels that is impossible now. 
“The best thing was when we would wake up early in the morning and water the vegetables. And after an hour all the farmers would sit together to have their group breakfast in the farm. Those days can’t come again, as some of my relatives and colleague were killed by the airstrikes.”
 
He wanted to send a message to the whole world about his situation: “There is nothing worse than seeing relatives became burnt bodies and hearing the screaming of children all the time, so try to imagine yourselves in our situation and stop the war on us.”

Photo: Anwar Abdu/NRC
Read caption “We didn’t take anything with us as we left on foot. Even the dead bodies we didn’t take. Some brave people returned the second day to bury them…. It would have been death and nothing is better than life.” On 6 May, airstrikes hit Ali's extended family on the farm where they worked and they were forced to flee. Photo: Anwar Abdu/NRC

Armed conflict displaces 660,000 since UN call for global ceasefire

Published 22. May 2020
Armed conflict forced more than 660,000 people around the world to flee their homes between March 23 and May 15, leaving people more exposed to Covid-19, and is preventing global efforts to control the pandemic.

“At a time when health experts tell us to stay at home, men with guns are forcing hundreds of thousands out of their homes and into extreme vulnerability,” said NRC’s Secretary General Jan Egeland. “This not only hurts those who are forced to flee, it seriously undermines our joint efforts to combat the virus.” 

New figures released today by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) show that armed hostilities have continued despite a call on March 23 from the United Nations’ Secretary-General António Guterres for a global ceasefire in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Of the 661,000 internally displaced in 19 countries in two months, the highest number by far was in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where clashes between armed groups and the country’s military forced more than 480,000 people to flee their homes.  

Even in countries where warring parties have expressed support for a ceasefire call, the fighting has not stopped. In Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition announced that they would implement a unilateral ceasefire. However, airstrikes have continued, and the other parties have undertaken armed operations resulting in the displacement of 24,000 people since March 23. 

“My cousin tried to flee the farm with his family, but an airstrike hit them. Three were killed, including a baby,” said Ali, a Yemeni father, who was forced to flee on May 6.  

The Lake Chad region has also experienced an internal displacement surge with Chad and Niger worst affected. Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Syria, Somalia and Myanmar all saw more than 10,000 people displaced in the same period.  

The UN Security Council has failed to provide leadership for ceasefires, peace talks or protection of civilians during the pandemic. While there is broad agreement on the call for a global ceasefire, powerful countries including the US and China, are stalling progress by bringing their bilateral disagreements into council deliberations.  

NRC appeals to UNSC members to issue a clear call to warring parties to halt the conduct of hostilities and to settle their conflicts through talks and allow for a systematic response to the pandemic.  

“While people are being displaced and killed, powerful members of the UN Security Council squabble like children in a sandbox,” Egeland said. “World leaders must rise to the occasion and jointly push parties to cease their fire and unite in protecting all communities from Covid-19. Now is not the time for kindergarten politics.” 

Jan Egeland visited an informal site in Kabul where 144 displaced families live. NRC has supported the families living here with building houses, latrines and water pumps.
Read caption “While people are being displaced and killed, powerful members of the UN Security Council squabble like children in a sandbox,” Jan Egeland said. Photo: Becky Bakr Abdulla/NRC
Notes to editors: 

 

  • Crossfire and Covid-19: double crisis for displaced civilians can be found here.
  • B-roll from Yemen can be found here.
  • Imagery can be found here. 
Facts and additional information: 
  • The figures were compiled by NRC’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and cover internally displaced people between March 23 and May 15. The figures focus primarily on displacement caused by armed conflict. However, in a few cases, the data does not allow us to disaggregate it entirely, meaning some figures might include movements caused by other forms of violence. 
  • Figures for Yemen were compiled by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM). Due to access challenges, IOM data does not cover the entire country, so the displacement figure is likely to be significantly higher.
  • The Covid-19 crisis has reduced access to affected areas, hindering data collection, validation and sharing efforts. Given the limitations on data collection due to conflict-related access restrictions as well as new restrictions on humanitarian operations as a result of measures to contain Covid-19, the overall figure is likely to be an underestimate. 
  • The seven case studies in this report, covering DR Congo, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Cameroon and Colombia, draw on information and analysis from the Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) humanitarian programmes in the above countries, including testimony of newly displaced people.