Yemen begins repatriation of thousands of stranded citizens

In March, Yemen’s internationally recognized government canceled flights to and from the country’s airports to prevent the spread of coronavirus. (AP)
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Updated 28 May 2020

Yemen begins repatriation of thousands of stranded citizens

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen began repatriation flights on Thursday for thousands of Yemenis stranded abroad due to coronavirus lockdown. However, there were fears that those repatriated might push up coronavirus cases in the war-ravaged Yemen.
In March, Yemen’s internationally recognized government canceled flights to and from the country’s airports to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Thousands of Yemenis stranded abroad sent appealed to the government to arrange rescue flights as they had run out of money.
A plane operated by Yemenia, the national airline, touched down on Thursday at Seiyun Airport in the southeastern province of Hadramout carrying 152 Yemenis from Amman amid heavy safety procedures. These included preventing the passengers from having contact with the airport staff and disinfecting their luggage and the plane. A health worker wearing personal protective wear collected passports as other workers disinfected the luggage. 
“The travelers were not allowed to enter the terminal building. Buses carried them from the airport tarmac to their homes,” a worker at the airport told Arab News, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speaker to reporters.
A Yemenia plane might be carrying the same number of stranded people from Cairo airport to Seiyun airport next week, the airport worker said.
Yemeni government officials said that Thursday’s flight from Amman is part of a larger plan to evacuate more than 10,000 Yemenis by air, land and sea in June. 
A local government official in Aden told Arab News that the Yemeni government would pay for plane fuel, empty seats and Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 in some countries. “We have paid a big bill to bring them back home,” he said. All stranded people would have to do PCR tests to make sure that they are free of the virus 48 hours before leaving their host countries.

“The biggest concentration of stranded Yemenis is in Egypt, where we signed contracts with local labs for coronavirus tests,” the government official said. More than 1200 stranded Yemenis in the UAE will be carried on UAE commercial flights to Riyan airport in the city of Al-Mukalla. The UAE will provide them with free of charge coronavirus tests. Stranded Yemenis in Oman and Saudi Arabia can go by land to Yemen provided they are carrying coronavirus test reports. Yemenis in Djibouti would have to sail to Yemeni seaports on the Red Sea, the government official said. 
Regarding stranded Yemenis who live inside Houthi-controlled areas, the Yemeni government official said a Yemenia plane would touch down in Sana’a but not before receiving a formal assurance from the UN that the Houthis would allow planes to depart Sana’a airport. “We are worried that the Houthis might seize the planes,” the government official said.
Despite the announcement of the government repatriation process, stranded Yemeni arranged sit-ins in many countries, demanding immediate evacuation. On Thursday, dozens of Yemenis arranged a small sit-in in the Indian capital to demand their government to accelerate the repatriation process. “We heard about rescue flights from Amman. Our situation here in India is different. Those who are sick cannot not find money to buy food, let alone medicine. We want the government to arrange at least one flight a day to bring us back home,” a protester said in a video seen by Arab News.
The Aden-based national coronavirus committee said on Wednesday that seven new cases in Taiz, Shabwa and Dhale brought the total number in Yemen to 256, including 10 recoveries. It said there have been one new death, bringing the total number to 53 fatalities.

Yemenis fear decaying oil tanker could cause major disaster

Updated 37 min 5 sec ago

Yemenis fear decaying oil tanker could cause major disaster

  • Beirut explosions spur activists and fishermen to warn of potential impact if Safer tanker is not repaired

AL-MUKALLA: Following Tuesday’s huge explosions in Beirut, Yemenis have been voicing their concern that the decaying Safer floating storage and offloading terminal could lead to a devastating disaster in Yemen if it is not repaired soon.

Having seen footage of the destruction wrought by the explosions in Lebanon, Yemeni fishermen, politicians, government officials, military officers and activists have urged the international community to pressure the Houthis to give experts from the United Nations access to the damaged ship so that it can be fixed.

The Safer has been stranded off the western city of Hodeida since early 2015. It reportedly carries around 1.1 million barrels of crude oil and has recently shown signs of rusting, with water entering the engine room. That leak prompted UN officials to warn of a major impending environmental disaster in the Red Sea, as well as the potential risk of a massive explosion caused by the build up of gases in the storage tanks, or by weaponry fired deliberately or accidentally.

Under pressure from local and international bodies, the Iran-backed Houthis, who control Hodeida, initially agreed to allow a UN team to board the ship to assess the damage and unload the oil. However, they later reversed that decision, citing a conspiracy between the UN, the US, and the Saudi-led Arab coalition.

Khaled Al-Rami, a Yemeni fisherman from Hodeida’s Khokha district on the shores of the Red Sea, told Arab News that his “first thought” on seeing the images from Beirut on Tuesday was that an equally devastating disaster could occur if the Safer spills oil into the water.

Last month, the Yemen-based environmental group Holm Akhdar (Green Dream) warned that an oil spill would have devastating consequences for fishermen, marine diversity, and the country’s fish stock.

“At least 115 of Yemen’s islands in the Red Sea would lose their biodiversity and their natural habitats. About 126,000 Yemeni fishermen — including 67,800 in Hodeida — would lose their only source of income because of the disaster,” the group said in its report.

“If the ship is not repaired, then after Lebanon, it will be Yemen,” Al-Rami said. “On WhatsApp, my friends and other fishermen shared their concerns about a predicted disaster from the ship. We are all worried about the impact of any oil spills on our lives. This is our major concern at the moment. It causes us great horror and panic. I appeal to the international community, the Arab Coalition and the UN committee (in Hodeida) to save us from a possible disaster.”

Nabiel Ali, also a fisherman from Khokha, told Arab News that his generation and his children’s would suffer the consequences of an oil spill from the Safer. “I urge the international community and all the good people in the world to find an urgent solution to this problem,” he said. “For the sake of humanity, please save Yemenis in general and the fishermen in particular.”

On social media, Yemeni activists echoed similar concerns about a possible disaster off the Yemeni coast.

“The Beirut Port explosion came to remind us of another imminent catastrophe that threatens Yemen and the whole world,” Mustafa Ghoules, a Yemeni journalist, said on Twitter. “The Safer tanker, which contains more than a million barrels of oil, is on the verge of leakage and explosion and is used by the Houthis as a weapon,”

Mohammed Saeed Al-Sharabi, an activist, called on his compatriots to save their country from disaster by emptying the decaying tanker before it is too late.

“The Safer tanker must be unloaded before oil spills and causes a major environmental disaster in the Red Sea. You must learn a lesson from the Beirut port disaster,” he said.

Abdullah Al-Saqqaf, another activist, called for mass protests across Yemen to pressurize the Houthis into allowing UN teams to maintain and unload the ship. “There must be popular demonstrations demanding the unloading of the tanker and exerting public pressure on the Houthis to abide by the United Nations resolution on the tanker,” Al-Saqqaf said.

The internationally recognized government of Yemen expressed its support for Lebanon and offered condolences to relatives of the victims of Tuesday’s explosions, according to a brief statement carried by the official Saba news agency on Tuesday night.

“We would like to assure everyone that the Yemeni community members are well and healthy and only two students were lightly injured,” the Yemeni Embassy in Lebanon said in a statement on its official Facebook page.