On Tuesday the LUU Oxfam Society staged a brief “photo stunt” outside the Union building as part of a campaign which hopes to raise awareness of the ongoing Yemen crisis. Members of the society posed with a banner asking “Who Cares About Yemen” to show their solidarity with a country which “stands on the brink of famine”.
Organiser and Society Vice President Rachel Clark said that the aim was just to “take a photo outside the University to put on social media and spread around. It’s a really simple idea,” she told The Gryphon, but one the Society hopes will represent another step in engaging students with what is still very much a “hidden crisis”.
Prior to the outbreak of war between Houthi rebels and pro-government forces, Yemen was the poorest country in the Middle East with more than 10 million people struggling for food. Now, it is estimated that 80% of its approximately 25 million citizens are in need of life saving aid. Since March 2015, the conflict has displaced 3.1 million people and killed over 6,700 more, with schools and hospitals frequently suffering airstrikes. The death toll continues to rise, with no end in sight.
The activists are painfully aware of the lack of knowledge surrounding the conflict – a result, they say, of the lack of media coverage owing to our own contentious role in the war. Rachel, who is also a second year English Literature student, explained: “It’s not in the news because of British involvement. We’re selling the arms to Saudi Arabia so obviously it’s not in our interests to publicise it.” Consequently “a lot of students don’t know very much about but no one I’ve spoken to has been blasé, they’ve been really interested and quite stunned that this is part of our foreign policy”.
The UK and US have armed Saudi Arabia, which is targeting the Houthis, with state of the art warplanes and munitions. It alone is able to carry out the airstrikes which the UN estimates are responsible for 60% of the civilian casualties. Yemenis know that the UK and US supply the military hardware, and vehemently dispute Saudi claims that they abide by the Law of Armed Conflict which prohibits the targeting of civilians. Just last month, the bombing of a Yemeni funeral forced Britain to send Tobias Ellwood MP, the Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East, to take part in discussions with his Saudi counterpart, the Yemeni president and the UN Special Envoy for Yemen.
Oxfam Society’s other efforts include petitioning in the Union, encouraging students to sign their name to Oxfam’s online petition to end the war. Their signatures will add further weight to the charity’s plea for the UK government to use its influence to push for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, attempts at which have thus far been temporary and ultimately unsuccessful. Oxfam also asks that that the government responds to the “humanitarian catastrophe” by providing essential supplies including food and the medicine so desperately needed by besieged hospitals.
Oxfam Society are determined to get their vital message across to students and may hold other photo opportunities later in the year as well as a Q&A session with guest speakers. The Society urges students to look up the petition online and keep up to date with their activities via their Facebook page.
While the banner’s provocative question may not have grabbed the biggest crowd, LUU Oxfam Society will be seeking to change that in the coming weeks.
(Image: LUU Oxfam Society)