Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)
Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Homesick Yemenis

Yemeni refugees in Cairo, struggling with poor housing and meagre resources, see few prospects of returning to their war-torn country, writes Sophia Jessen

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Al-Ahram Weekly

“It’s my land, my family, my home, my life,” says Sami Ali Mohamed, 42. Since the war broke out in Yemen, Mohamed and his mother have been stranded in Cairo, far from his wife and children in Sanaa and without any clear prospect of return.

Like some other Yemenis in Cairo, Mohamed and his mother, who both suffer from heart conditions, came to Egypt in search of medical treatment.

When they left Sanaa they were not prepared for the possibility that they would be stranded in Cairo by the conflict in their country. Today, they feel trapped both geographically and economically. Mohamed spoke to the Weekly from his temporary home in Dokki in Cairo.

When asked how much money he has left, he broke out into a nervous grin. “None,” Mohamed says. Their savings for the trip to Egypt ran out at the beginning of May, and for the last two months Mohamed has not received his salary from the Yemeni government.

Over the past three days a Yemeni student settled in Cairo has provided Mohamed and his mother. Mohamed says he has a piece of land that he could sell if the situation does not improve.

A few days ago he contacted a group of volunteers and explained their situation, hoping that they would be able to help him. If they were not able to help him, he and his mother would have to live in the street, he says.

Luckily, the group has been able to find him an apartment in Dokki, even paying the first month’s rent with help from some Yemeni businessmen.

But there is little comfort to be had from the bare walls of Mohamed’s new apartment. It only reminds him of how far he is from home.

This is also the case for eight other Yemeni families in Cairo spoken to by the Weekly, all of them living in bleak temporary apartments and dreaming of being able to go back home.

Mona Ibrahim, 40, and five other Yemeni women have been trapped in Cairo for between one and two months. They are distressed by what they see on television of the war in Yemen. But they are not afraid to go back to their country and in fact are eager to return.

“We want to go back to Yemen, where we will be able to live. It is better than living in exile,” Ibrahim says.

She arrived in Cairo in March with her 12-year-old daughter who suffers from cancer in search of proper treatment. With mother and daughter stranded in Cairo, her daughter’s class is taking its exams back in Yemen, and she will have to repeat the school year. She hopes they will be able to return before Ramadan.

Before the war broke out, the women lived separately from each other, but today five families are gathered in two apartments with eight men in one and six women in the other. Like Mohamed and his mother, the five families have had to find cheaper alternative accommodation.

Both Mohamed and Ibrahim have asked the Yemeni Embassy in Cairo for help but have had no response, they say. “It’s a case of back and forth and back and forth,” Mohamed explains. He often walks to the embassy, where Yemenis have been demonstrating to demand the right to return to Yemen.

Yasmin Alnadheri, an unrelated Yemni refugee in Cairo, is one of a group of six young people who have volunteered to provide housing and food for the trapped Yemenis. The situation is “devastating,” she says.

“No words can express what they are going through. It is like a nightmare because they don’t know how to deal with the situation. None of them expected to be stuck outside Yemen in another country and with no money when they came to Egypt,” Alnadheri said.

“Few Yemenis are well paid, so when they go to the airport to go home they normally don’t have much money left. We picked up someone in March who said he did not even have the money to get a taxi into Cairo,” she added.

The volunteers have hung a list with their names and numbers on the gates of the Yemeni Embassy, and they have received many calls for help. On the first day after the list appeared Alnadheri received a hundred calls, and over the past week the number has more than doubled.

Alnadheri said that most Yemenis coming to Cairo had done so for medical treatment for conditions such as cancer and diabetes, because the treatment is better in Cairo than in Yemen.

According to the group, 2,000 of the 6,000 Yemenis stuck in Cairo because of the war in their country are in need of food and housing, while others need medical treatment for -chronic diseases.

“We met a dozen families at a mosque in the downtown area that we found accommodation for, but it was only by chance that we found them. When we meet people, we sometimes meet others too and ask for copies of their passports so we can help them. Most often, we help families to find cheaper apartments,” Alnadheri explains.

As I was getting ready to leave the last apartment, a stranded Yemeni receives a text message from his wife in Yemen to say she has had a baby daughter. He passes the phone across to show a newborn girl wrapped in a pink blanket.

The International Organisation for Migration has also recently begun providing financial assistance to around 800 vulnerable Yemenis in Cairo.

Over 6,000 Yemenis have been stranded in Cairo since Saudi Arabia launched military operations in Yemen on 26 March as part of an Arab coalition of over ten countries to fight Shia Houthi rebels who have taken control of the capital Sanaa.

Yemeni airspace was declared a restricted zone because of the air strikes, and the Houthis spread to the southern port of Aden and started attacking the Saudi cities of Najran and Jazan near the Saudi-Yemeni border.

Last month, a Yemeni Embassy official said that the decision to secure trips back to Yemen for Yemeni nationals stranded abroad would be up to the members of the Saudi-led coalition. Since then there has been no further comment from the embassy in Cairo.

Last week, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir announced that an agreement had been reached with the Houthis for a five-day humanitarian ceasefire starting on 12 May.

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