Editor’s note: On October 8, a series of Saudi-coalition airstrikes on a funeral reception in Sana killed more than 100, including many prominent Yemeni leaders, and injured hundreds more. The strike led to calls among Yemenis for counterattacks against Saudi Arabia on its border with Yemen, and the Obama administration announced an “immediate review” of its support for the Saudi coalition.
In the center of Djibouti’s capital city, which is also named Djibouti, is a restaurant named Mohamed Ali Basha. It opened just over a year ago, and swiftly became popular with waves of Yemeni refugees, arriving in droves across the narrow strait that separates the Arabian Peninsula from Africa, fleeing conflict in their home country. At lunchtime, the restaurant’s two pastel pink–painted rooms are crammed with people breaking huge charred fish with their hands and rolling the pieces into traditional flatbread. The dishes here are simple, delicious, and serve as a kind of comfort food for Yemenis stranded in Djibouti. “This is their favorite food,” Mohammed al-Gobany, the restaurant’s manager, told me in May. Al-Gobany is himself a refugee, from the city of Ta’iz. He left Yemen seven months beforehand. After the lunchtime rush had passed, we sat and chatted about what he had seen as war tore his city apart.
Ta’iz is in the central part of Yemen, between Sana and Aden. The city was once known for its 800-year-old hilltop castle and its many universities. “It was Zahrat al-Mada’en”—a flower among cities—“Now it is the ruined one among all cities,” another refugee, Rakeeb Muhammad, a 22-year-old computer science graduate from Ta’iz who is now living in Djibouti, told me. Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war since last year that has seen a Saudi-led coalition support the ousted president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, against an armed movement from the north of the country called the Houthis. The Saudis say that the Iranians are supplying the Houthis, although there is scant evidence that Tehran has provided anything more than limited support for the faction. The Saudi-led coalition, on the other hand, is provided with logistical support by the United States, and much of the weaponry it uses also comes from this country.
The conflict continues to exact a horrific toll. According to the UN, more than 10,000 people have been killed, many of them civilians, and well over 3 million have been displaced. More than 180,000 Yemenis have fled to neighboring countries, and the rest are refugees in their own country. The country’s cities are shattered. “Ta’iz is totally in ruins now. Hardly any residents are living there; no food, no petroleum products, nothing at all,” Muhammad said.