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War Worsens Plight of Disabled Students in Yemen

SANA’A–Yemeni students with disabilities, like their peers in most Arab countries, have long faced numerous difficulties enrolling in universities and getting jobs in their chosen fields. For Yemenis with disabilities today, however, the disruptions caused by years of conflict between government and rebel troops and all-out war since 2015 have increased their suffering and prevented many from pursuing their university studies.

“The war has caused in general thousands of students to stop their education, and a large number of them are disabled,” said Hanan Al-Thawr, director general of education services with Yemen’s Fund for the Care and Rehabilitation of People With Disabilities, a government agency.

“Access to universities has become a difficult task, or even an impossible one for many,” Al-Thawr said. “In addition, the fund’s resources have become extremely scarce and we are no longer able to help students pay their tuition fees and provide transportation on a regular basis.” (See a related article, “Yemen: Chaos, War and Higher Education.”)

Only 750 students with disabilities are still pursuing studies at Yemen’s universities, Al-Thawr said, and their education is threatened due to the fund’s inability to support them financially. Around 190,000 students with disabilities have been deprived of education and treatment across the country, especially after 300 public, private and national associations and centers specialized in caring for the disabled were shut down.

Adel Ahmad, a journalist who covers disability issues, estimates that the care and rehabilitation agency’s budget has declined by about 70 percent. “The decrease of the budget has negatively affected the size of the support the fund gives the students, especially those with disabilities,” he said.

Meanwhile, the continuing war in Yemen has caused the number of people with disabilities to increase. According to the International Red Cross Committee, an estimated 6,000 people have lost a limb or suffered some other disabling injury in the conflict, “most as the result of a blast, a mine or gunshot.”

In a December 2015 report, Human Rights Watch cited United Nations figures estimating that three million people in Yemen, or slightly more than 10 percent of the population, had disabilities and faced increasing challenges in meeting their basic needs, including access to health care and education.

The war has also caused an increase in poverty in Yemen, which was already one of the poorest countries in the Arab region. The need for basic goods such as food, water and medication has led many families to halt education for their children with disabilities. The situation is worse in rural areas because of rough roads, damage to buildings and homes and the absence of sanitary services.

Universities have also suffered during the war, with many buildings damaged or destroyed, and many professors fleeing or going unpaid. In some areas there are also reports of political changes that threaten the quality of education universities can provide. (See a related article, “Yemen’s War Reaches Into Public-University Classrooms.”)

Ammar Abdullah Ahmad, who was studying pharmacy at Sana’a University, is one of thousands of university students with impaired mobility who had to stop his studies when the tuition and other financial assistance he was receiving dried up.

A picture of an elderly father carrying his disabled son during his graduation ceremony in Yemen went viral on Arabic social media accounts.

“I had always wished to finish my studies and start working in the specialty that I love in order to help my parents,” said Ahmad, “but since the tuition assistance stopped for two consecutive years, I had to stop attending lectures.”

According to Al-Thawr, the care and rehabilitation fund has fallen behind in paying the students’ tuition since 2015 because of the war. As a result, many students have been expelled, despite a government decision not to expel students for failing to pay their tuition fees.

Ahmad, who uses a wheelchair, was not expelled, but he could not afford to pay for transportation and textbooks, so he had to stop going to classes.  He hopes his situation is only temporary. “I wish the war would stop as soon as possible and for the financial support to resume,” he said. “That way, I can pursue my studies and achieve my dream.”

Anwar Rafik, a third-year student in computer science at Yemen University, also has impaired mobility and also had to halt his studies. He is less optimistic about the educational and professional possibilities ahead for students like him.

“The war has made us even more disabled and has killed our future,” Rafik said. “I do not know what the future holds for me. I am not even sure my disabled classmates and I have a future in this country as this war continues.”


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