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Meet the child victims of Britain’s £6bn weapons deal with Saudi Arabia

Meet the child victims of Britain’s £6bn weapons deal with Saudi Arabia

Every night at midnight, little Halima Salah wakes with a start, screams – and is so terrified she throws up.

It is always the same nightmare. She is back in Yemen, where a Saudi Arabian bombing campaign has devastated millions of lives.

A campaign that is armed and equipped by Britain.

Nearly three years ago, Halima was playing outside the family home in the port of Aden when Saudi forces dropped a bomb, instantly killing two of her friends.

The missile that ended their lives was highly likely to have been made in the UK.

Tomorrow marks the third anniversary of the conflict in Yemen. In that time, UK firms have made £6billion selling arms to Saudi Arabia with Government approval.

And in the course of 15,000 air strikes, British-made bombs and fighter jets have helped hit 800 schools, killed 1,600 children and maimed thousands more like Halima.

James Denselow, of Save the ­Children, warns today: “Tens of thousands more could die this year.”

Halima was just five when the blast knocked her unconscious and left her almost blind and barely able to walk.

Her life was saved because her father Anwar, 56, dragged her limp body from the rubble and took her to a medical centre where she was treated for shrapnel wounds.

“When I found her I thought she was dead,” Anwar says.

“I got her to a doctor, but that’s when we knew we had to leave. We don’t know who is paying for the bombs but we just want it to stop.”

The conflict has forced almost 50,000 people to flee Yemen. And it shames Britain’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia.

This month, Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman dined with Theresa May and the Queen.


May claims she raised “deep concerns” with the prince about the world’s worst humanitarian crisis unfolding in Yemen, with 11.3 million children affected.

Yet it’s understood the Foreign Office is about to rubber stamp arms giant BAE Systems’ sale of 48 Typhoon fighters to Saudi Arabia.

To mark the conflict anniversary, Save the Children will hand a 60,000 signature petition to No 10 calling for such sales to be suspended.

Anwar and wife Iqra, 33, fled Yemen days after the bomb, taking wounded Halima and their nine other children to make the treacherous crossing to Somalia where there is civil war and a drought.

It is a hotbed of Islamic extremist groups, and so called White Widow Samantha Lewthwaite, the widow of 7/7 bomber Germaine Lindsay, is rumoured to be there.

Yet it is a safe haven compared to Yemen. Bombs have hit hospitals and food shipments, pushing the country to the brink of famine.

Lack of food and proper medical supplies has triggered almost a million reported cases of cholera, thought to be the worst outbreak since records began.

Like many people who have witnessed the horrific violence first hand, bewildered little Halima finds it hard to speak about the bomb or her dead friends.

Abishimo Hamed, 40, understands her pain. A native Somali, she fled her home country 20 years ago to escape the civil war and build a new life in Yemen, working as a cleaner to support her three teenage children.

Now war has again turned her life upside down – and driven her back to Somalia.

Her decision was made when a pregnant friend was travelling on a bus with her five children when it was targeted by war planes.

“They thought the bus was carrying bombs,” she said. “My friend and her children were killed with everyone else.

“There were body parts everywhere. Some were really badly burned.”

Nine days later, Abishimo and her children fled back to Somalia with the help of a man who hid them among livestock in a boat crossing the Gulf.

The family now lives in a refugee camp hut in Garowe, in the Puntland region of the country.

A few shacks along we find Muzamal Ibrahim, 26. He was caught in another bus attack in 2016. He lost his left arm.

He said: “I lost so much blood I almost died.”

In Yemen, he washed cars for a living, but in Somalia he has been reduced to begging for food.
Another bombing survivor cradles her three-month-old baby (Image: Sunday Mirror)

Last year, his wife gave birth to triplets. All three died from malnutrition.

Muzamal says: “In Yemen, before the war, we had food and the children could go to school. Here, we have nothing.”

Fellow refugee Zaynab Omar, 25, fled Yemen shortly after the war broke out, worried for her children. Yet the drought and food shortages in Somalia have torn her life apart.

Eight months ago, her daughters Yasmin, two, and Aisha, one, died from malnutrition and cholera two days apart.

She says: “I’ve since had twins and I think one of them is malnourished.

“The doctors have told me to take her to hospital, but I don’t have the money. Maybe if the war in Yemen hadn’t happened Yamsin and Aisha would still be here.”

Fadumo Ahmed also left Yemen because she feared for the life of her son Bashir.
A map showing Yemen in relation to Somalia

She had a good life before the war, working in a beauty salon in a town called Mukala while her husband worked for a petrol company.

Now, she begs local shopkeepers for food to keep her family alive. She says: “Leaving Yemen behind was so tragic, but we had no choice.

“I have seen bombs going off everywhere, lots of deaths and injuries, smoke everywhere. I’ve lost friends and seen others maimed.

“Rebel groups have taken people from their houses and slaughtered them, then taken their bloody clothes to give back to their families as a warning.”

All Fadumo and the rest of these shattered families want is to go home and return to their old lives.

But as Save the Children predicts the fourth year of the war could be its deadliest yet, it seems a distant dream.

Anwar says: “My children know nowhere but their homeland. But now they are scared of it.

“We long to go back but we can’t. It’s just not safe.”

And it’s likely to get a lot more dangerous if more British-made war jets with Saudi Arabian pilots end up in the skies above devastated Yemen.

No end in sight for the conflict ignited by the Arab Spring

The Yemen conflict has its roots in the 2010 Arab Spring, a revolutionary wave of battles for reform in several countries.

An uprising saw president Ali Abdullah Saleh replaced by deputy Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

But he struggled to deal with attacks by separatist groups such as the Muslim Houthi movement.

It gained a foothold in the north in 2014 before trying to to take control of the country.

Alarmed by the Houthi groups’ supposed links to Iran, nine Arab states led by Saudi Arabia have been trying to restore the previous government. They have

launched a sustained bombing campaign with support from the UK, the USA and France. But three years on, both sides are entrenched, and UN peace deal attempts have failed.

How you can help end this crisis

By James Denselow, Save the children’s head of conflict and humanitarian policy and advocacy

For the past three years, children in Yemen have been bombed and starved with utter impunity.

Thousands have died in their homes or in hospitals as they waited in vain for medicines or life-saving equipment to reach them.

Tens of thousands more could die this year alone if urgent action is not taken to end the violence.

Children who once felt they had a future have seen their cities and dreams turned to rubble. Half of all hospitals have now been damaged or destroyed.

Hundreds of schools have been levelled or attacked, and four million children are on the brink of famine.

Britain has both moral and legal obligations to use its close relationship with Saudi Arabia to ensure arms aren’t used indiscriminately, killing and maiming children.

What guarantees do the UK have that British-made weapons will not be used as part of an aerial campaign that has already hit 800 Yemen schools?

British firms have sold more than £6billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia since the war in Yemen escalated three years ago. The saddest thing is all of this suffering is man-made.

All we need is political will from all the warring parties to end the bloodshed and fully relax the blockade so humanitarian and commercial supplies can enter Yemen.

Without this, the fourth year of its war will likely be its deadliest yet.

Your donation could change the course of the war for a child in Yemen or now in Somalia. You could help stop children starving by helping us treat malnutrition and deliver food.

You could help us distribute hygiene kits, set up treatment centres and rehydration points to stop the spread of diseases like cholera.

And you could help us ensure children have safe places to learn, play, and begin to come to terms with what they’ve been through.

Visit this site to donate today. 

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