Neglected Minorities cry for help [Archives:2007/1040/Reportage]

April 9 2007
Children are the prime victims of state neglect for minorities, no education, no sanitary living conditions, and no future.
Children are the prime victims of state neglect for minorities, no education, no sanitary living conditions, and no future.
Improper housing conditions add to the misery of minorities, this slum is located on the suburbs of Sanaa.
Improper housing conditions add to the misery of minorities, this slum is located on the suburbs of Sanaa.
By: Almigdad Dahesh Mojali
[email protected]
For the Yemen Times

Poverty and complete absence of government care for the marginalized black minority in Yemen are the main reasons for the misery and troubles this minority faces. Most Yemenis consider those of this minority disgraceful and not worthy of having any type of relationship with them. Not only this, but the minority's misery and destitution have caused many citizens to spread bad rumors about this persecuted minority.

The main financial resource for families in this minority is to work as street cleaners and they cooperate with one another to cope with the problems they face. Ayesh Ali, deputy chief of the minority, explains, “Our usual work is to clean streets, but the salary, which is YR 17,000, does nothing for us, so we sometimes work for private cleaning companies.”

He continues, “All of us are very poor and some families have many members and no father. Such families receive very little money from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs every three months, in addition to their YR 6,000 salary – and this is in the best situations. Despite the severe poverty we suffer, our community is very cooperative, where you'll find that we collect money for those families with ill members.”

Although a minority of blacks clean streets, this doesn't mean the government doesn't allow them to work in other fields, as they are considered Yemeni citizens with the same rights and obligations as any others.

Sameer Ahmed Abdu, 24, a member of this community, explains, “We work as street cleaners because we don't have qualifications, although we're allowed to go to school and university. We go to school in the beginning, but the problem is that the more you progress in your studies, the more money you need.”

Umm Abdu Omer, 35, expresses, “Our children are allowed to go to school and university. In fact, our neighbor is a sports teacher at a public school. However, the problem is that we're destitute. We don't have money to feed our children, so how can we send them to school?”

Poverty and state negligence affect not only the marginalized black minority's economic and educational aspects, but also health aspects. As a result of the destitute situations the minority endures, they can't provide healthy food or pay for health care services, which cost a lot, both at public and private hospitals. Consequently, many suffer various diseases, which sometimes are infectious.

Moamar Sa'eed, 32, complains, “How do you want the state to provide us with health care services when it doesn't give anyone any type of health care, let alone us? Those hospitals pretending to be public and free take as much from us as private hospitals. The only difference between public and private hospitals is that we receive better care in the private ones and they don't extort us like the public ones do.”

He continued, “I took my mother to Al-Thawra Hospital, where she spent two months. She left after I had spent YR 700,000 without any benefit. I then took her to a private hospital and spent less than a month there but with good result.”

Umm Yahya Najeeb, 44, stresses, “Many of our children suffer from numerous diseases, especially during winter, but we often don't take them to hospitals or clinics because we don't have money and, as you know, even the public hospitals require money. Really, I wonder why they call them public and free?!”

The only aid this minority receives is from Al-Saleh Corporation and a Sudanese organization called Own. Al-Saleh Corporation camps for two weeks a year and supplies health care services.

As the minority's deputy chief Ali explains, “We receive health aid from Al-Saleh Corporation and a Sudanese organization called Own. Al-Saleh Corporation spends two weeks a year treating the ill, providing them with medicine and lecturing a team of select individuals among us about first aid, AIDS and infectious diseases. We then teach others. The Sudanese organization comes once a year, but only to distribute medicine.”

Poverty affects the economic, health and educational aspects of this minority's life, but not as much as it affects them socially. As Ali expresses painfully, “Many people spread rumors about us and about our customs and traditions. Some say we don't marry and that we perform sex illegally, while others say we don't fast and pray. Still others accuse us of eating our relatives when they die instead of burying them, under the pretext that they've never seen us perform a funeral at the cemetery.

“I'd like to take this opportunity to tell them that we are Muslims exactly like you. We pray and fast, we marry and we bury our dead. How could we eat the bodies of our relatives?! What kind of person believes that? The only difference between others and us is that we bury our relatives as soon as they die, not waiting until many people come. Another difference is that they have approximately seven days for the condolence ceremony while we have only three,” Ali concludes.

Mahmoud Mokred Abdu, 28, adds, “Because some of our women are unveiled and talk to others, some people think they may do anything illegitimate, but that's completely wrong. Many women are unveiled and many others talk to others, but this doesn't mean that any woman who talks to others is ready to have bad relations with others.”

However, non-marginalized individuals don't hold this view. “They are poor and we respect them because they are respectful and earn their livelihood legally. They are better than many of those who steal public funds and boast about themselves,” Abdulkarim Al-Najar observes.

The most prominent effect of poverty regarding social aspects is that others won't accept to marry such marginalized people, even if they're educated or the other party accepts the proposal.

Ali confirms, “Others won't accept to marry from us and we don't marry from them. For example, our neighbor's son wanted to marry a girl from Old Sana'a, but although she agreed, her father totally refused. However, when her father learned that they had married, he accepted it.”

Some say poverty isn't the only reason why others won't accept to marry from or into the marginalized black minority. As 55-year-old Mohammed Mojali from a non-marginalized minority clarifies, “Poverty isn't the only reason to refuse marriage with them, as family ancestry is very important, regardless of economic situation. As you know, Yemeni society has many social layers and relations and differences play a strong role in selecting a family from which one will marry.”

Abdulhamid Al-Yarimi, 45, has another opinion, “In my opinion, poverty is the main cause of all the troubles and defects that make us refuse young men from this minority. Due to poverty, they aren't educated, they have no suitable accommodations and no suitable jobs and that's enough to refuse them. We don't refuse them because they're poor; rather, because they can't provide a suitable life.”

When one touches the life and reality of this poor marginalized minority, he easily finds that poverty severely affects all aspects of their lives except political rights, wherein the minority may exercise all of its political rights. “The only thing we have from the state is our political rights; thus, we have our representative on the district's local council and we exercise our political rights freely,” 28-year-old Majed Obaad notes.

However, their political rights sometimes are taken by some means. As Samirah Ayoob, 35, explains, “We can exercise all of our political rights freely, but the problem is that during elections, some candidates come and buy our votes; thus, due to our severe poverty, most of us vote for the candidate who pays more.”