Coronavirus: Houthi rebels suspend schools and open new camps for child recruits

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The Houthi rebels have been using the suspension of schools and universities in Sanaa and other areas under their control in northern Yemen because of the coronavirus outbreak to recruit new fighters, residents say.

The Iran-backed militia suspended schools and universities on Sunday. Yemen has suffered no cases of coronavirus so far, in both government and Houthi held territory, but fears remain about what could happen to the war-wracked country’s population if the virus spreads.

After the school closures, the Houthis moved to open new camps for child recruits, making students enroll at these instead, according to those living in Houthi-occupied territory.

“Instead of teaching the curriculum at schools, the Houthi authorities ordered the schools to be suspended over allegations of fighting coronavirus, and later they opened camps just similar to the summer camps,” a resident of Sanaa told The National.

“They brought the students of the primary and secondary schools together and are brainwashing their minds, telling them that coronavirus is a biological war launched by America and Israel to destroy the Muslim countries.”

There are fears in the country that the rebels are now using the crisis as a pretext to bolstering their ranks in the five-year war against the internationally-recognised government backed by the Arab Coalition.

“I believe that they don’t have any concern over Coronavirus because they never care for the Yemeni people at all, dozens of civilians die every day due to the war in areas under their control,” the resident continued.

In the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, officials confirmed the suspension of education institutions in Houthi areas, and claimed the rebels were trying to get more children to the frontlines of the conflict.

“They suspended the schooling in all the educational institutions, justifying it as a proactive step to control the spread of coronavirus, but instead they started holding sectarian brain washing activities and recruiting the children to be pushed into the fronts,” Abdulnaser Al-Mamlooh, the media director of the National Resistance based in Hodeidah, told The National.

Yemen’s representative at the UN has estimated that the Houthis have recruited over 30,000 children since the war broke out in 2015. Thousands of them are believed to have been killed on the battlefield.

“Such behavior exposes the Houthis and reveals their real face, they never care for the people or pay any attention to protect them, so their claims over suspending the schooling to protect the students from coronavirus remain fake and politicised. They shuttered the schools and opened the recruitment camps. So, what is the difference?” Mr Al Mamlooh said.

“Is it not the same?! Coronavirus would not be able to reach the children in their recruitment camps because they would be immunized by the Houthi slogans? That is ridiculous,” he said.

The Houthi rebels have been focusing on schools and the universities as sources to get new personnel. They have repeatedly stormed schools and forced students to join the fronts without telling their families.

“I wouldn't be surprised if that is the case. Houthis have relied heavily on recruiting children for their war,” Nadwa Dawsari, a Yemeni analyst, said.

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The Houthi rebels engage the children and the school students in such sectarian activities in private camps as they convince them to join the fronts away from their families who don’t have a chance to refuse.

“Many children I interviewed believed that they were fighting America and Israel in Yemen because the Houthis told them that the West will steal their land and resources,” Fatima Abulasrar, a Yemen conflict analyst and a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute, said.

“Children are brainwashed into fighting Yemen's national army because they genuinely believe they are protecting their land.”

Updated: March 17, 2020 04:26 PM

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