According to some Yemenis who have witnessed their country become ravaged by war since 2015 or who themselves have lost everything to the fire, Muhamasheen lives do not matter. Apparently, being devastated by the horrors of missiles and explosions might still not make you let go of classist and racist beliefs.

The Muhamasheen are a low-caste group whose name translates to ‘the marginalized’ (Beuze). The group adopted this name in rejection of Akhdam, or ‘the servants’, which is the popular name given to Muhamasheen by Yemenis who believe that the Muhamasheen are descendants of African slaves or soldiers (Beuze). The Muhamasheen lead a marginalized way of life: they are relegated to slums in the outskirts of towns and are largely denied access to legal documentation, basic literacy, clean drinking water, sanitation and economic opportunities (Beuze). The discrimination with which the Muhamasheen are traditionally met has spilt into the way they have been received by greater Yemini society as they evacuate their homes in search of refuge. Their experience of discrimination is also gendered: women endure a feminization of poverty and men are forcibly recruited to the frontlines of war. 

The Muhamasheen in Yemen. Access source here.

While all Yemenis suffer the war that has devastated their country for the last five years, the experience of displacement differs across social sectors; and this reflects the “inherent patterns of discrimination within Yemini society” (Rajji) While many host communities in Yemen support internally displaced persons in war-concentrated areas, Muhamasheen are “largely left to their own devices” and have not been permitted by sheikhs or by local neighbourhood chiefs to remain on most of the lands on which they have taken refuge. Muhamasheen have also been denied humanitarian aid by local actors in charge of distribution. Their rejection at and mistreatment within safe sites has forced some Muhamasheen to retreat back into highly dangerous territories: one group of Muhamasheen returned to war-torn Saada because they felt that “the treatment and living conditions in the host areas and camps were so demeaning that they preferred the bombs” (Rajji). The historically stratified positionality from which the Muhamasheen have had to fend for resources in Yemen’s political economy has not been disrupted by the very sobering crisis of war; instead, it has been fortified. Forced to choose between bombs and abuse, the Muhamasheen are not allotted the basic human right to live by their own society.

The experience of discrimination endured by the Muhamasheen is also gendered. In host camps, female-headed households are at higher risk of hunger. Mariam, for example, is a widow living in the host site of Amran that “struggles to feed and take care of 13 children on her own” (Beuze). Because Muhamasheen have historically been denied legal identity documentation, Mariam and most of her children are legally ineligible for humanitarian aid distribution. They must share what little resources they acquire through four of her adopted and government-recognized children (Beuze). 

Mariam, 50. Access source here.

Moreover, due to how unprotected they are as a displaced people, the Muhamasheen are left extremely vulnerable to trafficking and other forms of exploitation: young girls are forced into early marriage “to escape poverty and to ease some of the economic burdens of their families” and boys are trafficked by militaries and militias to the frontlines of war (Rajji). Taiz, a Muhamasheen activist, remarks that the boys and men who refuse recruitment face death, “yet death is the only option anyways” (Rajji). Men and women, then, experience different obstructions to peace and security.

To be sure, international actors are also to blame for the impoverished condition of the Muhamasheen. First and foremost, because of the political interests of some Western powers, the UN waited to declare the situation in Yemen an emergency (Rajji). The West has also played a role in selling and circulating arms to strengthen the Houthis, one of the most powerful militias involved in the war (Rajji). Both of these (in)actions affect the level of suffering endured by the Muhamasheen today (and by Yemen in general). The United Nations can also better fulfill its responsibility to plan and execute security efforts in Yemen: it must better map out the location of the Muhamasheen in order to ensure that they are accounted for and given aid (Rajji).

It is necessary that humanitarian efforts recognize the particular challenges affecting marginalized peoples within countries in crisis. They must also pay attention to how these challenges are further complicated by gender and other social markers. The Muhamasheen have not been responded to with the same compassion as other members of Yemini society by both local and international actors, and it is time that the world protest the slow-burning fire of what has become the Muhamasheen genocide. 

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is an emergency. If you wish to donate, please visit UNICEF the UN Crisis Relief or Islamic Relief.

About the Author

I am a student of secondary education at the University of Alberta particularly interested in the experiences of intersectional identities in politics and history. In my writing and teaching, I focus on Indigenous relationships with capitalism, kyriarchal systems of power and oppression, identity (re)construction and negotiation in traditional culture and in diasporic and/or (post)colonial societies, and policy on refugee crises.