The tragic life story of young Buthaina Mansur al-Rimi has now made her the symbol of Yemen war.
Buthaina’s home was reduced to rubble after the Saudi air strike in August 2017
During the Yemen war, Buthaina’s entire immediate family were wiped out in an air strike. Buthaina was rescued and taken to the hospital.
There in the hospital, the pictures of her trying to open her swollen and bruised eyes with her fingers were broadcasted worldwide.
That international media saw her become something of a propaganda pawn in the war between Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels and Saudi media.
In an interview with AFP, Buthaina recalled the strike that killed her parents, four sisters, only brother, and another uncle. She said:
“I was in my mother’s room with my father, sisters, brother and favourite uncle,” Buthaina tells AFP from rebel-held Sanaa, where she has returned from Saudi Arabia to live with Ali and her cousins.
“The first missile hit, and my father went to get us sugar to get over the shock, but then the second missile hit, and then the third,” she says.
“And then the house fell,” adds the little girl, who says she is eight.
Along with her family, eight other civilians — including two children — were killed in a house nearby on that night of August 25, 2017.
A few days later, the picture of Buthaina attempting to force open her right eye went viral. The Saudi-led alliance admitted responsibility for the air strike describing it as a “technical mistake”. But it drew strong international condemnation.
A month after her close family was wiped out, pictures of Buthaina appeared in Saudi media showing her being treated in Riyadh.
The circumstances surrounding her move from Sanaa to the Saudi capital remain unclear, but she has just returned to Yemen’s capital.
Buthaina, looking healthy, sitting on the floor of her uncle’s home in Sanaa, playing alongside her cousins with a doll and braiding its hair, said she is looking forward to going to school for the first.
“I want to go to school and become a doctor,” she tells AFP, her own hair tied in a ponytail.
“I want the war to stop and for us to live in peace… for the children of Yemen to live in peace.”
Her uncle who is now her legal guardian was sitting behind her, nodding as she was interviewed.
Buthaina’s return to her home city comes after a ceasefire agreement in the lifeline port city of Hodeida — part of a peace push seen as the best chance yet of ending four years of devastating conflict.
It has been a long journey back home for the little girl, who became a symbol of Yemen’s war.
Her uncle Ali said that she still struggles with the loss of her family.
“She doesn’t forget her mum and dad. She feels sad when she sees things that remind her of her parents or siblings… or when she hears the songs her father used to listen to,” he says.
“We tell her to hold on and that they are in heaven… and heaven is a beautiful place.
Ali says that Buthaina is his “flesh and blood” and considers her a daughter.
Holding back his tears, he said:
“When their house collapsed, I asked God not to deny me from seeing my brother again, but it’s ok. Thanks to him, Buthaina stayed with us.”
Yemen’s war has killed nearly 10,000 people, including 2,200 children, according to the World Health Organisation, but other groups say the toll is far higher.
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