Egyptian expats stranded in Yemen plea for safe exit home

Zeinab El-Gundy , Wednesday 1 Apr 2015

A number of Egyptian expats unable to leave Yemen as fighting and airstrikes escalate call on the foreign ministry in Cairo to evacuate them back to Egypt

Pakistani families, evacuated from Yemen, are greeted by airline staff upon their arrival in Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, Pakistan on Monday, March 30, 2015 (Photo: AP)
As the battle in war-torn Yemen escalates between Houthi militants and pro-regime Yemeni forces, and as the Saudi-led military coalition intensifies daily its airstrikes across the country, thousands of Egyptian expatriates have found themselves stranded with no safe exit back home.
On Wednesday afternoon the Egyptian foreign ministry announced that three groups of Egyptian expats managed to leave Yemen via the Red Sea, the Saudi border, and the Omani border. The announcement came after pleas by Egyptians in Yemen to the Egyptian government to evacuate them.  
"The situation is going from bad to worse," Ahmed Sami, an Egyptian expat who has been living in Sanaa for the past four months, told Ahram Online by phone. 
Sami and other Egyptians in the official capital of Yemen are worried that if the Saudi-led coalition escalates its operations to include ground forces, as demanded by President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi's administration, things will get even worse for Egyptians, considering the fact that Egypt is partnering in the coalition.  
"Last night there was news that Egypt would send ground forces to Yemen in one of the most popular Yemeni Facebook pages and almost all the comments on the page vowed to dig a new grave for Egyptians in Yemen in reference to what happened to the Egyptian army in Yemen in 1962," Sami, an engineer, told Ahram Online.  
In Aden, five Egyptians working in the hotel business found themselves surrounded by constant explosions resulting from coalition airstrikes.  
"Two days ago we called the foreign ministry in Cairo. The officials told us to head to Oman. But this is dangerous, not to mention it is extremely far from where we are staying," Alyaa Gaber, one of the Egyptians, told Ahram Online by phone.  
The Egyptian foreign ministry announced Monday it was coordinating with Omani and Saudi authorities in order to repatriate Egyptian expats who want to leave Yemen via its borders. Aden is 1,527 kilometres away from the Omani-Yemeni border, while Sanaa is 1,195 kilometres away from the same border. 
As the Egyptian diplomatic mission left Aden last week, after the storming of the city by Houthi militants, Egyptian expats have to travel to the Sultanate of Oman through the Al-Mazyouna and Sarfait borders crossings.
Both border crossings are located in the east of Yemen, while the Saudi-Yemeni border is located in the north where Iranian-backed militants have full control of the Yemeni governorates and highways.  
"It is impossible for us to head to Saudi Arabia, because the road to the Saudi-Yemeni border is the exact place where the fight is happening, while the road to Oman is controlled by Houthis as well as bandits," Sami told Ahram Online.
For Gaber and her colleagues, it is better to stay in Aden than to take the risk of heading to either border.  
"Aden is in the south and the southern Yemenis already support and approve of Egypt's stance, and so if we decide to leave the city and head to the north or Oman we can meet Houthi forces or pro-Houthi tribes who disapprove of Egypt's position and the whole operation," Gaber — who only arrived to Yemen two months ago — said.
"Also, the coalition air strikes are everywhere and Yemenis are fighting each other, so the roads are not really a safe option," she added, describing how constant the airstrikes are.  
Concerning casualties in Yemen since the start of Saudi led-operations against the Houthis, international aid agencies like the International Red Cross and Red Crescent express concern about the safety of civilians in Yemen. Already, according the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva, after five days of airstirkes by the coalition in five Yemeni cities, including Sanaa and Aden, not less than 93 civilians were killed and 364 others wounded. 
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent have also expressed concern that medical aid has not reached the country after the Saudi led-coalition announced that Yemeni airspace was restricted. 
Another group of Egyptians also asked the help of Egyptian government to evacuate them from Aden.  
Eight Egyptians working in Aden's oil refinery reached Egypt's minister of foreign affairs, Sameh Shoukry, on his phone, asking for his help while he was attending the Syria donors conference in Kuwait Tuesday, according to the foreign ministry.  
The eight Egyptians' details were sent to Egyptian authorities in order that they insure their safe return.
Earlier Wednesday, Shoukry attended the Yemeni Crisis Management Committee at the foreign ministry in Cairo to discuss latest developments and the situation of Egyptian expats in the war-torn country.  
The committee referred its recommendation to facilitate the return of expats from Yemen to the Egyptian government.   
Badr Abdel Atti, the official spokesperson of the foreign ministry, also announced in a statement about the committee meeting that Egypt was holding talks with countries with a presence in Yemen in order to help in evacuating Egyptians there.   
Several countries have already evacuated their citizens and diplomats as coalition airstrikes and local fights escalate.  
Saudi navy warships evacuated Gulf diplomats and reporters from Aden a couple of days ago, while the Chinese navy evacuated Chinese citizens from Aden earlier Tuesday.
According to the ministry of manpower and immigration, there are between 6,000 to 7,000 Egyptian expats working and living in Yemen.
Egypt is currently participating militarily in the Saudi-led operation against Iranian-backed Houthi militants. Egyptian navy warships are securing the Bab Al-Mandab strait in the Red Sea.  
On Monday, news reports said that Egyptian warships shelled Houthi positions near Aden. There has been no official denial or confirmation of these reports from the Egyptian armed forces or Saudi armed forces in daily briefings offered on ongoing operations.
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