Political Analysis

The World Needs More Humanitarian Heroes

National Yemen

Hussein with his four children

Asma al-Mohattwari

In early 2012 on the coast of Abyan, Yemen, Ansar al-Sharia attacked a number of Yemeni army camps. It was the deadliest attack by the group; 200 military personnel were killed and 80 were taken prisoner. After the incident, Hussein Saleh was called for assistance. He and members of an international mission would contribute directly to the release of prisoners.

Hussein Saleh was an orphan belonging to a southern family. His father died when he was three months old. He grew up, worked, got married and had two sons and two daughters. He was successful in the business field for about thirteen years and earned a lot of money, although he was not happy there. “I didn’t like the business life; it was not my right place. It is really hard to deal with people who don’t respect their promises; I have principles that I have to keep. Since I was a boy I liked to help people and that is the big thing, it is not money,” Hussein said.

Hussein worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), a neutral humanitarian organization that aims to help people in conflict areas. Because he was close to the protests of the southern movement, one of its regions, and in direct contact with the various groups of the Southern Movement, he gave priority to taking care of Yemeni soldiers, both medically and humanly. Hussein is a slender and highly sensitive person. His father was a respected person and his family had a good reputation, which helped him because he was in charge of networking with all the teams in the south.

Hussein started his work by visiting different groups in order to introduce the ICRC to them. While he was doing his humanitarian work, he lost his first daughter when she was eight. He didn’t know that she had leukemia. “Sometimes I am thinking that God took her because He, I may be wrong, feels jealous that I loved her that much,” he said. He plaintively added that “she believed me when I told her she would be fine so I feel like I lied to her. She suffered for one year because of me.”

He had burdened himself and held himself responsible for her death, as if aiming to quickly atone for what people think was negligence and responsibility for her death. In her last three months she told him that she wanted to die because she couldn’t suffer any more. Working had really helped him to be busy instead of thinking about her all the time.

When he joined the ICRC, he first prayed to God if it was a good move for him. The first question came to his mind, “do they call for Christianity or something like that?” But he made sure that the ICRC just does humanitarian assistance. “Every time I start a new tripe I pray to avoid all troubles. If I die during my work, I know where I’m going, I’m going to heaven and there I’ll see my beloved daughter,” he said.

Yemen is affected by several conflicts; in the south the military is fighting al-Hirak, a secessionist movement, and Ansar al-Sharia, a group affiliated with al-Qaeda. Many attacks targeting military bases cause injuries and deaths.

After weeks of negotiations, the ICRC was able to visit the soldiers held by Ansar al-Sharia.  This came after they revealed a plan to the military to inform them about the areas they were visiting to avoid air strikes.

It was the first time a humanitarian organization could monitor the prisoners’ detention. The situation was getting worse and worse and Hussein’s only concern was to reach those people and deliver assistance to them.

He wished that things were different but he didn’t see the possibility. He was just worried that the conflict could spread and reach the area where was his mother lived. “I wish we could help all the people somehow and decrease their suffering,” he said.

When Hussein left his business job and started humanitarian work, he didn’t know that his life would be short. Hussein Saleh was killed by shrapnel from an airstrike while working for ICRC on June 20, 2012. He died not far from where his mother still lives.

The story of Hussein was presented on the occasion of the World Day for Humanitarian Work on August 19, 2014. The celebration was organized by the Ministry of Public Health and Population in Yemen under the slogan The World Need More Humanitarian Heroes.

World Humanitarian Day is marking by paying tribute to aid workers who carry out life-saving activities around the world, often in dangerous places and difficult circumstances. August 19th was the anniversary of the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad that killed 22 people, including UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Humanitarian Coordinator Dr. Ahmed Chadol said that the humanitarian efforts in Yemen extended through the 2013 and reached more than five million people. “We were able to reach the needy people in Yemen in the farthest regions and more insecure areas, often in areas where there is conflict,” he said.

Chadol pointed out that the levels of violence against aid workers has reached high numbers and unprecedented levels for killings, kidnappings and attacks resulting in serious injury, which is unacceptable and totally unjustified. During 2013, 155 aid workers were killed, 134 were kidnapped, and 170 suffered serious injuries in different countries. In Yemen, at least 11 incidents against humanitarian workers occurred during 2013.

Julien Harneis, UNICEF representative in Yemen, called on Yemeni authorities and the kidnappers for the immediate and safe release of James Massaquoi a UNICEF engineer that was kidnapped in Sana’a last year when he was on his way to provide assistance to needy children.

Dr. Mohamed Harmel, of IDP Executive Unit, said that the celebration of the World Day for Humanitarian Work aimed to draw attention to the efforts of humanitarian worker and urged the organizations to work to expand their efforts and activities to access the people in armed conflict areas.