Sixteen students who had been studying in war-torn Yemen returned to Cambodia on Tuesday after spending weeks avoiding sectarian fighting and aerial bombings.
The Cham Muslim students arrived at Phnom Penh International Airport’s VIP terminal just before 3 p.m. to the hugs of waiting relatives.
While waiting for the students’ return, Feut Sann, 64, said two of his sons had been studying in Yemen and that he was relieved they were coming home.
“After I heard the news of the fighting, I became worried and urged them to come back home,” he said. “I feel at ease now. The last few days, I could not sleep and always had to ask my neighbors about the news.”
According to the U.N., hundreds of civilians have been killed so far in the conflict and thousands have been displaced.
Yemen has been embroiled in violence since last year, when Houthi rebels backed by Iran took control of the capital, Sanaa, forcing government loyalists to flee. The fighting intensified last month when a Saudi-backed coalition began launching airstrikes on rebel positions. Many of the targets were in Sanaa, where eight of the students had been awaiting evacuation.
Sles Hakim, 23, one of those students, on Tuesday described his ordeal getting out of the country.
Mr. Hakim said that he and six other students had been staying together in Sanaa and decided to get on a bus headed for the Oman border.
“When we were about to get on the bus, three or four bombs came down from the sky and exploded,” he said. “We consulted with each other about whether we should go…but we felt we had to, because there might not have been another chance.”
Mr. Hakim said that even after leaving Sanaa, the journey to the border continued to prove difficult.
“The travel was very hard because we went by ourselves and we had to find tickets by ourselves,” he said, adding that affordable fares were hard to come by because the country’s gasoline supplies were running out.
Othsman Hassan, a prominent member of Cambodia’s Cham Muslim community who was there to greet the returnees, said he had reached out to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation for help in getting the students across the border into Oman, from where their flights home were arranged.