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Displaced in south Yemen

Pepe Rubio Larrauri left a finance career in Madrid to pursue his passion for photography. His series of pictures from Aden, Yemen, documents the lives of some of the 20,000 displaced people who have settled in public school buildings after fleeing violence during the Arab Spring.

Larrauri was studying documentary photography at the International Center of Photography in New York in 2011 when the Arab Spring began making headlines. In March he traveled to Sana’a, Yemen’s capital and the heart of the uprising.

“I was in Sana’a doing a project about Change Square, the place where the revolution started,” he says. “I read a press release by the UN Refugee Agency about the situation in public schools in Aden, and I took a flight the next day.”

With his cameras and a friend who spoke Arabic, Ebrahim Al Shariff, he set out to document the plight of refugees in Aden. More than 150,000 people in south Yemen have been displaced since May 2011, when fighting between Ansar Al Sharia, an al Qaeda affiliate seeking to capitalize on the Arab uprisings, and government forces erupted.

Tens of thousands have flocked to Aden, some initially camping out in public schools while students were on break. Today about half of the 150 schools in Aden and neighboring Lahj house refugees.

“Most of the displaced left their homes thinking that it was going to be a matter of weeks to recover the peace,” Larrauri says. “One year ago nobody expected that they were going to stay this long.”

Larrauri shot pictures from dawn until dusk during his time in Aden, he says, because he wanted to visit as many schools as he could. In the end he made it to seven different schools.

Many refugees arrived only with what they could carry. They slept on classroom floors and improvised as best they could.

“Classrooms house up to five families at a time, with little dispensation for privacy beyond makeshift blanket partitions,” Larrauri says.

“Aden has their own problems. It’s a very poor place where services are running at a minimum level. One of the frontlines of the fighting is 50 kilometers away from Aden. You can hear the fighting in the silence of the night.”

Still, without any support from the government, Larrauri found that refugees in Aden have been largely welcome by residents.

“Many citizens of Aden are feeding them and helping as much as they can,” he says. “The IDPs have words of gratitude to the citizens of Aden.”

- Raymond McCrea Jones, CNN