Stranded abroad: Yemenis long to return home

Published on 8 April 2015 in Report
Ali Aboluhom (author)

Ali Aboluhom

A Yemeni guy among the protesters in front of the Yemeni embassy holding a placard reads “ To UN:open the air space, we are homeless in Egypt”.

A Yemeni guy among the protesters in front of the Yemeni embassy holding a placard reads “ To UN:open the air space, we are homeless in Egypt”.

Amjad Bahashwan felt very fortunate to be chosen for a media training course in Egypt, but the Saudi-led airstrikes on March 26 has left him stranded in Cairo. He had completed his course, his flight was booked and his suitcase packed, but because of the imposed no-fly zone, his flight never left Cairo for Sana’a.

Rather than stay at the airport for an unknown length of time, he received a kind offer to host him by a Yemeni university student studying in Cairo. Amjad said he and other Yemenis stranded in Egypt were granted permanent residency until the situation in Yemen approves. The Yemeni embassy in Cario confirmed that Yemenis stranded will be given permanent residency.

Bahashwan and other Yemenis stranded in Egypt have organized daily protests in front of the embassy in Cairo in hopes of putting enough pressure on the authorities to arrange for their return to Yemen.

Ibrahim Al-Jahmi, the expatriates affairs attache at the Yemeni Ministry of Expatriate Affairs for Egypt and North Africa, said the Yemeni embassy is responding promptly to the needs of its citizens.

The Yemeni ambassador, according to Al-Jahmi, has ordered the formation of a committee formed by individuals from the embassy to follow-up on the cases of those stranded and to look into providing them with accommodation.

According to Al-Jahmi, there are about 3000 Yemenis in Egypt asking to return. The embassy has coelected donations for about 1000 individuals that met certain conditions. Among those conditions, he said, is that the individual or family must have traveled to Egypt in 2015 for medical purposes.

Yemenia airlines is coordinating with the Saudis in hopes of securing permission to fly into Yemen, Al-Jahmi said. The airline will also need permission from the International Civil Aviation Organization and will need to find an insurer willing to take the risk of insuring an airline flying into a war zone.

Oman has agreed to allow airlines filled with Yemenis to fly into Oman, where they could then be transported by land to Yemen, he added. A Yemeni businessman has already agreed to foot the bill. The move would require permission from the Yemeni Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has not consented thus far.

Mohammed Mahdi travelled to Cairo about a month ago to seek treatment for his young son, who suffered from liver disease.

Two days before the Saudi-led operations began, the child passed away. On March 26, the day the strikes started, Mahdi’s wife was injured when the coalition hit a civilian home in the Bani Hawat district of Sana’a governorate.

Yahia Omar, a Yemeni university student in Cairo hosting Mahdi, said the man was still grieving the loss of his son when news arrived that his wife had been injured in an airstrike.

“He said, ‘there is nothing worse than losing my son, learning that my wife was injured and being stuck in Cairo,” Omar said.

Omar is hosting Mahdi because he spent all his money on treatment for his son and has nothing left, according to Omar.

Al-Jahmi says he is hopeful that the deal to return those stranded to Yemen is imminent. The acting minister of finance, Mohammad Zemam, has put the funds aside for the mission, Al-Jahmi said.

In India, Basheer Mohammed, an employee of the media department at the Yemeni embassy in Delhi, said nearly 4,200 Yemenis stranded in India for medical purposes have registered with the embassy. According to Mohammed, an Indian philanthropist is offering to cover accommodation for those stranded.

Mohammed believes the number stranded in India is higher, but that not everyone has registered. Arrangements are being made, he said, to return them to Yemen.

Saeed Yassin, 34, accompanied his father to India two months ago for treatment for kidney disease.

“Unlike many Yemenis who came to India, we still have enough money to stay until things in Yemen improve,” Yassin said.

In Amman, Jordan, a committee headed by Consular Jamil Hajeb and six others works to register Yemenis in Jordan in hopes of providing accommodation and a modest living allowance.

The committee is tasked with fundraising and soliciting donations for the effort.

Salah Al-Omqi’s father and brother went to Jordan for medical treatment last month. That treatment ended on April 1, but it is unclear when circumstances would allow them to return.

“They ran out of money so we had to send more this week for their accommodation and food,” Al-Omqi said.

A non-profit based in Michigan called the International Council of Rights and Freedoms (ICRF) is a group that has hosted events in the past on the rights of minorities in Yemen and aims to fill the gap between the Yemeni diaspora and those in the country.

The organization, chaired by Dahan Al-Najjar, is trying help those stranded at airports around the world. The group is focusing its efforts on providing relief to the most vulnerable: families, the elderly, the sick, and those without visas or means to leave the airports they are stranded at.

ICRF is focusing on providing relief to those who make it to Ecuador, where Yemenis do not require visas. According to Abdullah Al-Sharabi, the public coordinator for the group, ICRF is collaborating with Ecuadorian organizations to provide housing, food and medical services for those arriving in the country.

Since the project was established on April 4, the group says it has received hundreds of phone calls.

“Unfortunately, the majority of people calling are seeking asylum. That is not our aim, we are here to help those that most need it, those who are stranded in international airports,” Al-Sharabi said.

Arrangements for receiving a group in Ecuador are underway, he said. “They include two people who have been diagnosed with cancer. They will be receiving treatment in Ecuador.”