Taiz City, Yemen: Humanitarian medical space under indiscriminate attack
Repeated attacks and armed violations against health facilities supported by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in the city of Taiz are compromising our ability to deliver effective medical care for Yemenis. Between 2018 and 2020, MSF has recorded at least 40 incidents of violence against the MSF-supported Al-Thawra General Hospital, its personnel and patients, including shootings inside or near hospital premises. Hospital buildings and structures were hit more than 15 times by small arms fire and shelling, and there were nearly 10 incidents of medical staff being harassed and attacked.
MSF renews its call on all warring parties to take all necessary measures to respect health facilities and hospitals as humanitarian spaces and to end indiscriminate attacks and other violations that threaten the lives of healthcare workers, patients and caretakers.
Al-Thawra General Hospital is considered the largest public hospital in Taiz City. It has been struck by indiscriminate shelling from the armed forces of the Ansar Allah group and has suffered armed violations committed by armed groups linked to the internationally recognised Government of Yemen.
Staff no longer feel safe
“Our humanitarian space is threatened by the repeated violations committed by the different warring parties in Taiz,” says Corinne Benazech, MSF operations manager in Yemen. “In Al-Thawra hospital, staff no longer feel safe in what should be a protected space, and patients avoid coming to the hospital, fearing for their lives, even when it is their only viable option for medical care.”
Such attacks have also driven away medical staff from the hospital, as they look for ‘safer’ work elsewhere.
“As medical staff, your life is threatened at every moment in this hospital,” says Hashem,* a staff member at Al-Thawra hospital. “Most of the medical staff left after the many attacks that occurred. There is only one orthopaedic specialist left and two specialists in general surgery. The rest of the specialists are no longer here.”
In a series of particularly shocking incidents, armed intruders killed patients receiving medical care inside the hospital. Such attacks led to the suspension of MSF’s activities on multiple occasions, and decisions by Al-Thawra management to shutdown hospital departments preventing people from accessing vital medical care.
Although the rate of aerial bombardment and artillery fire impacting medical facilities in Taiz fell in 2019, recent shelling that struck the hospital confirms that episodes of violence continue to be a major concern. Direct and indirect acts of violence against medical facilities not only endanger the lives of medical staff and patients, but also place additional barriers on an already constrained and fragile essential healthcare system.
MSF calls for a halt to violence
Earlier this month, fighting erupted across the eastern side of Taiz City and quickly spilled into the city, with shelling striking residential areas. On March 13, Al-Thawra hospital’s emergency room received eight people who had been killed in the violence that day. The hospital itself was struck multiple times by shelling on the same day. Only a week earlier, on March 5, a similar incident took place, when the hospital’s general laboratory was damaged and a medical staff member inside was wounded.
Armed actors outside the city must cease all indiscriminately firing into Taiz City, and armed actors inside the city must also, to the extent feasible, avoid locating military sites near densely populated areas. MSF has raised this issue with the relevant authorities but unfortunately our warnings have been ignored.
“The actions of the warring parties clearly demonstrate a blatant disregard for the neutrality of hospitals and medical spaces. Every day, medical staff make courageous decisions to continue to provide healthcare despite the risks, for the benefit of Yemeni patients dependent on this care. All parties involved in this conflict have a responsibility under International Humanitarian Law to ensure civilians and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, are respected and protected,” says Benazech.