Difficult Decisions for Student-Soldiers in Taiz

A recent report from Middle East Eye focuses on the struggles of students trying to complete their university degrees in the embattled city of Taiz. Taiz is Yemen’s third-largest city and has been under siege for nearly two years; the constant conflict has caused many factories and private companies to close, while government employees have not been paid since August of last year. In an economic environment that leaves locals with few options, many residents, including students, are taking up arms to support themselves and their families.

The article focuses on the stories of Ibrahim, a 21-year-old student of computer science at Taiz University, and Abdullah, a 23-year old Arabic language student. Fighting the Houthi forces in and around the city provides them with approximately $200 per month and allows them to continue their studies and support their families. There are several armed groups in Taiz, referred to as the Popular Resistance, that support and fight alongside the forces of the Hadi government. The article does not specify which militia Ibrahim or Abdullah have joined.

In Ibrahim’s case, he was driven to the decision to join these pro-government forces when his father’s income was disrupted by the fighting and his family was no longer able to support his studies. He hopes to survive the battlefield long enough to save the money he needs to pay tuition, at which point he wants to quit and continue studying. He says he hasn’t killed anyone, and hopes he never has to. Abdullah, responsible for his three younger siblings after the deaths of their parents, joined a Popular Resistance group and fought against the Houthis in the area until he was wounded in a recent battle. His goal is also to complete his studies so that he can support his family without having to fight any longer.  These are just two out of the “hundreds of university students” who have joined the pro-government forces under similar circumstances, says Middle East Eye’s report.

According to a previous article from the BBC, ceasefires are regularly ignored by both sides of the conflict in Taiz. Mines litter parts of the city where fighting has taken place, meaning even after the immediate threat of gunfire has died away, danger remains for passers-by. The cases of Ibrahim and Abdullah further illustrate the deadly struggles of day-to-day life in the city, and the urgency with which a meaningful and lasting peace needs to be restored.