Wrapping their children in plastic sheets to stave off the winter cold, Yemeni families driven out of the historic port of Mokha are struggling to adjust to the harsh life of internal displacement.
“We were doing fine in our own homes, on our land,” says Zahra Aqlan, 55, who fled the Red Sea town in January.
The mother of five chose had no choice but to move to Al-Jarrahi, 100 kilometres (60 miles) up the coast, after she lost her husband when a rocket exploded on their street.
She now faces the daunting task of feeding her children with no access to resources in an impoverished country torn apart by war.
“There is nothing to drink here. Nothing to eat,” she told AFP in Al-Jarrahi. “We’re looking for aid just to keep our children alive.”
Yemen has witnessed increasingly intense fighting between troops loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and Iran-backed Huthi rebels.
Violence including air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition since March 2015 -- after the Huthis overran capital Sanaa -- has killed more than 7,500 people and left 19 million in need of humanitarian aid.
In January, fighting intensified along Yemen’s strategic western coastline as loyalists pushed to regain ground seized by the rebels.
The pro-government troops on February 10 took Mokha, once famed as the export hub of coffee grown in the Yemeni highlands, and announced they aimed to take the main Red Sea port of Hodeida next.
Zahra and her children are among an estimated 1,500 families who have been driven out of Mokha since January, seeking refuge further north.
Some have erected tents in a plot of land that appears to be unclaimed in Al-Jarrahi. Many others, however, are sleeping in the open air.
The UN’s refugee (UNHCR) and migration (IOM) agencies on Wednesday said that more than 48,000 people had in recent weeks fled hostilities in Mokha and nearby Dhubab.
UNHCR spokeswoman for Yemen Shabia Mantoo told AFP that Yemeni civilians were “fleeing with nothing but literally the clothes on their backs.
“The whole country is suffering,” Mantoo said. “People move from one place to another because it gets just as bad.”
Despite UN efforts to provide emergency shelter during the winter cold, internally displaced Yemenis continue to struggle, according to Asef Aidrous, a local official working with displaced families in Al-Jarrahi.
“The number of those displaced increases every day with the ongoing fighting around Mokha and the Hodeida coastal areas,” Aidrous explained.
- ‘Life of misery’ -
Zahra’s story is echoed across the makeshift camp, where many families sleep on flattened cardboard boxes.
Abdullah Mohammed, a labourer who left Mokha for Al-Jarrahi, said he has reached the point of desperation.
“Our belongings were destroyed. My home was destroyed. We have nothing,” Abdullah said in a calm voice of acceptance.
“We fled Mokha under shelling and left everything behind,” recalls Mohammed Salem, once a dock worker in Mokha.
But unlike Abdullah, Mohammed says he cannot accept the “life of misery” in Al-Jarrahi.
Millions of Yemeni lives have been thrown into turmoil by the war, with many facing repeated displacement and the looming threat of starvation.
UN humanitarian aid chief Stephen O’Brien on Monday said Yemen faces a “serious risk of famine.”
The United Nations has called for $2.1 billion (2 billion euros) in aid for Yemen, where UN mediation and seven ceasefire accords have failed to end a conflict that has also wounded at least 40,000 people.