Obama turns 50 -- and there's not much to celebrate

The President is keeping it low-key as the focus moves to the next potential crisis: jobs.

As 50th birthdays go, President Obama's keeping it pretty quiet. There is nothing in his official diary for today to mark the milestone. There'll be a reception with senior staff this afternoon, followed by a quiet night in with family and close friends. But then it hasn't exactly been the best couple of weeks of his life.

Yesterday, the President celebrated the last hours of his forties by treating staffers to a slap-up meal to thank them for their hard work on the debt ceiling deal.

Except this was no swish DC restaurant, but the Good Stuff Eatery, where the White House team splashed out on a selection of burgers and fries: including, perhaps, the ''Prez Obama'' burger, featuring roquefort cheese and ''delicious horseradish mayo sauce''. The joint is a somewhat unlikely favourite with the First Lady, according to Obama, who admitted he didn't ''get out much''.

Last night, though, was a chance for a full-on party, a huge fundraising event in the President's hometown of Chicago, compered by his old friend and former chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel. It was a chance to kick back with supporters after days of tension and acrimony surrounding the debt ceiling deal: "It doesn't matter how tough a week I have in Washington," he told around 1700 activists, "because I know you've got me -- you've got my back."

After dinner, and another donors' event, came a glitzy concert featuring Jennifer Hudson and Herbie Hancock, tickets selling for between $50 and a more ambitious $35,800. Then, for the non Chicagoans, a chance for grassroots supporters at some 11,000 events around the country to ask direct questions via a special live streamed video link. What did Obama think of the protracted negotiations to avoid the debt default catastrophe? "Extraordinary"... although "not the kind of extraordinary the American people are looking for".

The near-miss of potential financial disaster can only have been compounded by the sheer weight of liberal disappointment with the deal: trillions of dollars in spending cuts and not a tax increase in sight.

Now the focus returns to the next potential crisis -- jobs. With unemployment still a fraction over 9 per cent, Obama is heading out on the road with a bus tour through the Midwest later this month, promoting his new plans for job creation. And as if to emphasise the ''pivot", there's a new slogan on the White House website: Putting Americans Back to Work.

The one job he really wants to hang onto, of course, is his own. And as he prepares to spend that quiet birthday night at home, he'll be working out how to make sure it's not one of the last birthdays he'll spend in the White House.

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“Journalists are too scared to come”: Refugees on the forgotten war in Yemen

Only the few who have managed to flee the war-torn country can reveal the suffering of those left behind.

Last weekend’s BBC Our World report on the humanitarian crisis caused by the Yemen civil war highlighted that not only is the conflict a forgotten war, it is also an unknown war. Since war broke out 18 months ago in March 2015, surprisingly little has been written about the conflict, despite its similarity to ongoing and widely-reported other conflicts in the region, such as the Syrian crisis.

The main conflict in Yemen is taking place between forces allied to the President, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, and those loyal to Zaidi Shia rebels known as Houthis, who forced Hadi to flee the capital city Sana’a in February. The loyalties of Yemen’s security forces are split, with some units backing President Hadi and others his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is seen as the leader of the Houthi forces.

While these two forces have been at war, separate terrorist groups have been gaining more and more influence on the ground. Opposed by both the Houthis and Hadi’s forces, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have staged deadly attacks from strongholds in the south and south-east. They are also opposed by Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for a number of suicide bombings in Sana’a.

After rebel forces closed in on the president's southern stronghold of Aden in late March, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia responded to a request by Hadi to intervene and launched air strikes on Houthi targets.

I have spent the last couple of months working in the “Jungle” refugee camp in Calais, home to refugees from Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, Somalia – to name just a few. Having heard very little about the civil war, I was surprised to meet a handful of Yemeni men living inside the camp.

Hussein*, 28, is a film producer and dancer from Yemen who fled the country two years ago and has travelled through 11 countries to reach the Calais camp, where he has been living for just over a month. In a mixture of English and French, he tells me how groups of Houthi militia forcibly try to confiscate cameras and notebooks from both local and international journalists. He knows local journalists, friends of his, who have been threatened, tortured and even killed by Houthi forces.

He pulls out his phone and shows me a picture of his friend, Mohammed, who worked as a photojournalist, documenting brutality as a result of the war. Mohammed’s friends and family have not heard from him since April; the best-case scenario is that he is being detained, but Hussein seems pretty certain that he is dead. As a result, many who otherwise would have reported on the conflict have fled from besieged cities such as Sana’a, Aden and Taiz to the relative safety of the countryside in the north of the country, or have left Yemen altogether.

His friend Jamil, with whom he shares a tent, adds: “from other countries journalists [they are] too scared to come”. He claims that there are only “five or seven” foreign journalists in the capital city, Sana’a and tells me about journalists from the UK, France and the US who, after spending days being held up by countless militarised checkpoints while trying to reach the main cities, are then interrogated and detained by Houthi forces. If they are let go, they are harassed throughout their visit by National Security officers.

After watching his mother die during an airstrike in the city of Hodaida in January, Jamil took the decision to flee Yemen and claim asylum in Europe. He is worried about his father and his friends who are still in Yemen, especially after hearing reports that random border closures and cancelled domestic flights have been preventing crucial aid convoys of food, medical supplies and trained aid workers from accessing the citizens who are desperately in need of humanitarian assistance. Jamil reminds me that Yemen was in economic crisis even before war broke out, with widespread famine and limited access to healthcare or clean water.

Movement within the country is restricted and dangerous, and in the last twelve months alone, four Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) facilities have been attacked and destroyed by airstrikes. Writing on 15 September 15, MSF head of mission in Yemen, Hassan Bouceninem spoke of:

“Other health centers, schools, markets, bridges . . . [that] have been attacked and destroyed by airstrikes, shelling, or bombs. Such attacks create direct victims but the war (economic failure, access problems, closing of hospitals, no health staff etc.) also causes a lot of indirect victims within the population.”

Such widespread instability and the resultant lack of access for journalists and aid workers means that it is difficult for the world to know how much Yemen is suffering. Only by speaking to the few who have managed to flee can even begin to grasp the realities of daily life for those left behind.

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of our sources.

Neha Shah has been volunteering in the Calais camp.