Yemen central bank nearly doubles interest rate to halt riyal plunge

Yemen’s currency has halved in value against the US dollar since the start of a civil war in 2014. (File/AFP)
Updated 19 September 2018
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Yemen central bank nearly doubles interest rate to halt riyal plunge

  • Yemen’s currency has halved in value against the US dollar since the start of a civil war in 2014
  • The United Nations says more than 8 millions Yemenis are at risk of famine

ADEN: Yemen’s central bank, based in territory controlled by its exiled government, nearly doubled its interest rate on Wednesday in an effort to stabilise the riyal after violent demonstrations against a plunging currency.

State news agency Saba said the rate on certificates of deposit had been hiked to 27 percent. An official at the bank said the previous rate had been 15 percent for the past four years.

Yemen’s currency has halved in value against the US dollar since the start of a civil war in 2014, when the capital was captured by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement and the government fled.

Most Yemenis now live in Houthi-controlled territory, while the government of exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi controls the south, backed by a Saudi-led coalition of Arab troops.

Saba said the central bank also raised the interest rate on government bonds to 17 percent. It did not say what the previous rate was.

The effect of the rate decision is difficult to forecast in the Arabian peninsula’s poorest country, where inflation has hit record highs and many traders prefer a safer Saudi riyal.

The United Nations says more than 8 millions Yemenis are at risk of famine, requiring the world’s most urgent relief effort.

The plunge in the currency and soaring inflation sparked violent demonstrations in the government-held south earlier this month.

The banking system still functions, delivering some government salaries, and is used for transfers of funds from Yemenis living abroad.

Wednesday’s statement said the bank will tighten foreign exchange rules and Yemenis will not be allowed to take more than 10,000 US dollars out of the country without approval from the central bank.

“The central bank also reiterates its commitment to help commercial banks by transferring hard currencies to their foreign accounts,” the statement added.

Last year, the government floated the riyal, instructing banks to use the market rate for the riyal instead of a fixed rate.

On Wednesday, the currency was changing hands at around 610 riyals to the dollar on the black market in the southern port of Aden, base of Hadi’s exiled government, while the official rate was announced at just 490 riyals, according to traders. Black market rates are similar in Houthi-held territory.

Hadi’s government moved the central bank from the capital Sanaa to Aden in 2016, a move that put the bank in the crossfire of Yemen’s war. 


Mardini — refugee from Syria rising fast after fleeing war

Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, the Olypmpia swimmer, escaped conflict in her homeland. A year later she famously competed at the Rio Olympics. (Photo/UNHCR)
Updated 15 min 19 sec ago
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Mardini — refugee from Syria rising fast after fleeing war

  • The 21-year-old girl almost drowned at sea fleeing her war-torn country four years ago

GWANGJU/SOUTH KOREA: Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, who almost drowned at sea fleeing her war-torn country four years ago, heaved a deep sigh after failing to set a personal best at the world swimming championships on Sunday.

Representing FINA’s independent athletes team, the 21-year-old looked up at the giant scoreboard and winced at her time of 1 minute 8.79 seconds in the 100-meter butterfly heats in South Korea.
“I’m not very happy actually,” Mardini told AFP.
“I had some problems with my shoulder but I’m back in training. I still have the 100m freestyle and I’m looking forward to that.”
Mardini’s time was more than 12 seconds slower than that of reigning champion Sarah Sjostrom and 47th overall, but she has come a long way since risking her life crossing from Izmir in Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos in the summer of 2015.
Refugee swimmer Mardini knows what she is talking about when it comes to family separation for asylum seekers.
In 2015, she and her sister Sarah had escaped conflict in their homeland when the boat they were aboard with other refugees began sinking. They jumped out and swam part of the journey from Turkey to Greece.
They then embarked on an overland trip from Greece to Germany, evading local authorities in countries with immigration policies that barred them from legal entry. Along the way the sisters slept in train stations or wherever they could find shelter.
Mardini empathizes with families currently separated along the US southern border.
“This is the most terrible thing anyone can have — to live without a mom or to live without a family,” she said on Sunday at the world swimming championships where she’s competing as an independent athlete.
“I arrived in Greece in only jeans and a T-shirt,” said Mardini, who also swims in the 100m freestyle later this week. “Even my shoes were gone.”
“In the beginning I refused to be in a refugee team because I was afraid people would think I got the chance because of my story,” said Mardini, who now lives with her family in Berlin.
“I wanted to earn it. But then I realized I had a big opportunity to represent those people — so I took the chance and I never regretted it,” she added.
Mardini was 17 at the time. She is now a goodwill ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. She famously competed at the Rio Olympics a year later under the refugee flag.

FASTFACT

• In 2015, she and her sister had escaped conflict in their homeland when the boat they were aboard with other refugees began sinking. They jumped out and swam part of the journey from Turkey to Greece.

• Mardini was 17 at the time. She is now a goodwill ambassador for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Rio was amazing. It was really exciting to see the reaction of people to the team. Now I’m representing millions of displaced people around the world and it really makes me proud.”
It is a far cry from life back in Syria, where rocket strikes would often shake the pool she trained at in Damascus.
“There were bomb attacks sometimes that would crack the windows around the pool,” said Mardini, who has addressed the UN General Assembly and whose story is set to be told in a Hollywood movie.
“I know people who lost their moms on the way or in the water — that got drowned — and I feel this is terrible,” she said.
Mardini said that from the time she left Syria she lived without her mother for six months. Eventually, they were reunited in Germany, where they now live in Berlin. “I felt so alone,” she said. “So lonely.”
The experience has prompted her to stand up for fellow asylum seekers in similar situations.
“Someone has to do something about it,” Mardini said. “The least we can do is talk about it, not just ignore it like everything else happening in the world.”
Mardini finished 47th out of 52 swimmers in the 100-meter butterfly heats on Sunday. Her other event in Gwangju is the 100 freestyle on Thursday.
She is attempting to again qualify for the Olympics as a member of the Refugee Olympic Team.
“My goal now is just to swim a new personal best,” she said. “And my next goal will be Tokyo 2020.”
Fellow Syrian Ayman Kelzieh was also forced to flee the country before competing at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon.
Returning to Korea five years later, the 26-year-old now owns a fistful of national swim records, including the 50m, 100m and 200m butterfly.
“When the war started I had just moved to Damascus and I couldn’t get back home to Aleppo,” said Kelzieh, who now lives on the Thai island of Phuket.
“But even in Damascus bombs sometimes even went off at the swimming pool we trained at,” he added after taking a poolside selfie with his idol, South African star Chad le Clos.
“There were even attacks at the hotel I stayed in — I was lucky.”