Human Rights

Desperate to hold on to al-Hodeidah, Houthis forcibly recruit residents

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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This picture taken on July 17th shows displaced Yemenis from al-Hodeidah receiving food aid from a Japanese NGO in the northern district of Abs, in Hajjah province. [Essa Ahmed/AFP]

The lack of a popular support base for the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) in al-Hodeidah, coupled with heavy losses on the battlefronts, have pushed the militia to forcibly conscript local youth into its ranks.

Some al-Hodeidah families have resorted to smuggling their sons to Sanaa or other Yemeni cities, or hiding them at home for fear of them being recruited by the militia, residents and human rights activists said.

Hisham Mohammed, 20, recently fled to Sanaa with some of his male relatives to escape the conscription enforced by neighbourhood leaders, he told Al-Mashareq.

Mohammed had not set foot on the streets of al-Hodeidah since the offensive to liberate the city began on June 13th, he said.

"My mother was very worried that I would be forcibly conscripted by the neighbourhood leaders," he said, adding that he stayed home for a month until he was able to escape to Sanaa.

No popular support

"The Houthis have resorted to forced conscription because they have no popular incubator in the districts of al-Hodeidah," al-Hodeidah media professional Wadih Atta said.

"They imposed forced conscription on residents after they failed to intimidate them and gave up on enticing them," he told Al-Mashareq.

The Houthis have been carrying out arbitrary abuses in some districts of al-Hodeidah, he said, including "the imposition of a 3,000 riyal [$12] fee in lieu of the conscription of their sons".

Hundreds of families have had to smuggle their sons out of the province to "escape the militia’s tyranny", he said.

The Houthis have lost many of their fighters in the battles to liberate al-Hodeidah, such as in the districts of al-Tuhayat, Hays and al-Durayhimi, he said, while many others deserted their posts.

"The Houthis kill those fighting in their ranks who try to flee from the battles, as was the case with a youth from the village of Beit al-Faqih who fled the front to which he was forcibly taken and was killed upon his return", Atta said.

Weakness on the fronts

There are two main reasons for the forced conscription of youth by the Houthis, lawyer and activist Abdul Rahman Barman told Al-Mashareq.

The first is that the militia is losing a large number of its fighters in the battles, and the second is the tribes’ reluctance to conduct voluntary conscription, he said.

The Houthis are weak and the residents are refusing to enlist their sons in the militia's ranks "after seeing the convoys of the dead" coming back from the battlefronts, he said.

"People are now convinced that the Houthis are thrusting their sons into the fire with forced conscription," Barman added.

The evidence of Houthi abuses is plentiful, he said, including "killing parents who refuse to hand over their sons to fight with the Houthis".

There are many such cases that occurred in Hajjah, he said, adding that although the Houthis prohibit monitoring agencies from working in areas under their control, "all their crimes against the Yemeni people will come to light one day".

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