Stranded Yemenis: How Humanity Presides Over Bureaucracy

One certainty about Yemen is that it’s no stranger to conflict. Civil war two decades ago, ongoing clashes with Houthis and tribal wars have developed a sense of steadfastness in Yemeni people when it comes to enduring the adversity of war. The last conflict sees Saudi led coalition forces fighting Houthi rebels and army dedicated to ex-president Saleh.

Essentially, Yemen has become a proxy war zone in a power struggle between forces in the region. However, this time feels different — Yemen is facing its worst humanitarian crisis in years.

In UN Human Rights Council report published on 8th April, the UN Special Rapporteur, Chaloka Beyani, urged the international community “to prepare for massive displacement and humanitarian crisis as conflict torn Yemen further descends into chaos.”

With country’s borders blockaded and ban on money transfers out of Yemen, thousands of displaced people abroad have no money and no means to come back home.

Yemeni family in Cairo

There are thousands of stranded Yemenis around the world but the situation is most critical in Egypt. Cairo currently registers over 5000 Yemenis, majority of whom are medical tourists. Unaware of impending war, they have travelled to Egypt for medical treatments before the air strikes began. Now with Yemen borders closed, they are stuck facing financial difficulties as the money dries up.

With nowhere to go, most of Yemenis spend every day outside the embassy but its doors are closed. The embassy have claimed to have pledged for money for assistance to 6000 Yemenis but records show they only housed 700 people for two weeks. The frustration over its lack of action and rumours of corruption of embassy officials fuel anger and desperation resulting in protests.

Protests outside the Yemeni embassy, Cairo.

Dire situation and the desire to help fellow country men lead group of local Yemeni students to take on the initiative.

‘We understand that the government is sometimes a bit slow. We just jumped in and took the initiative at the beginning and we thought that this is just for small period of time and then the embassy will come in but it seems there is a problem.’ says Mazen Al-Hebshi, one of the activists. Instead of dealing with requests, the embassy now redirects all calls to Samar Amin, one of the volunteers who had to take over their duty.

Jihad Nasser takes details of Yemeni father when giving him money for rent.

The volunteers receive donations from the Yemeni community living in Cairo and dedicate their time and resources to provide medication, food and accommodation for the families in need. Daily they receive dozens of calls from different parts of the city. Due to the hectic Cairo traffic, visiting 7 families takes around five hours. Jihad keeps record of every person they have provided for so the embassy later doesn’t take the credit.

Almost two months into the conflict and the situation is showing no signs of easing up. With no help from the government, the Yemeni people are left to help each other any way they can. As they receive photos from friends and family in Yemen, the war feels incredibly close. Number of people here had their houses destroyed, yet even if there isn’t anything to come back to, they all want to go home. Due to escalation of the conflict in more brutal direction that saw the capital Sana’a airport destroyed, that option seems very far away.

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