SANA'A, Yemen — Saleh al-Asri, the principal of the Abu Bakr al-Saddiq school in one of the largest cities in Yemen, was preparing in June to give an exam to his 600 students when UAE-backed forces began fighting just down the highway.
The military was there to seize the port city of Hodeidah from the Houthi rebel militia, which has controlled it since an uprising in 2014. Hodeidah is one of the country’s biggest trading routes, and its port brings in cargo that generates millions in taxes for the Houthis, making it a valuable target. But the fighting quickly made the city uninhabitable for civilians, and people began pouring out.
“We just opened our doors to take in people,” al-Alsri told VICE News. “All of the refugees came to us.”
Since then, hundreds of displaced Yemeni families have passed through al-Asri’s school on the outskirts of Sana’a on their way to displacement centers in the capital. According to estimates, at least 300,000 people have fled since the start of the operation.
Most of those displaced by the fighting left in a hurry — and in fear for their lives. Just last month, 22 children and four women were killed by a Saudi-Emirati coalition as they fled the city of Hodeidah.
Mohammed Alsaidi made it out with his family of six after fleeing in the middle of the night and boarding bus after bus until they reached Sana'a.
“We left everything behind, except for the clothes on our backs,” Alsaidi said.
Just days after the family arrived at the school, they were displaced again and forced into a refugee camp in Sana’a.
The war has left Alsaidi at the mercy of a political fight taking place far overhead.
“They're all fighting for the throne. They all want to rule at the expense of the poor and weak masses,” Alsaidi said. “Let them fight as much as they want, we just want to find food to eat. All we seek is a decent living, and a dignified death.”
Since the war began in 2015, 6,660 civilians have been killed, according to a U.N. estimate, though the toll is likely much higher.
This segment originally aired August 28, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.