“When will I see you, oh you beauteous soul, When will you be free for this encounter?”
Opening with those lines from renowned Yemeni singer Abu Bakr Salim Balfaqeeh’s song, the five-minute video 'Stranded' released on 20 May on Vimeo by Oscar-nominated Scottish-Yemeni filmmaker Sara Ishaq and British-Yemeni student Rawan Shaif, is a poignant account of the unpublicised reality faced by thousands of Yemenis currently trapped in Egypt, many of whom are medical patients.
In many ways, Balfaqeeh’s repertoire, which tugs at the bitter states of exile, profoundly resonates with the topic.
'Stranded' reveals the ongoing humanitarian crisis experienced by Egypt’s Yemeni community uncloaking the ongoing humanitarian crisis experienced by the Yemeni community stranded in Egypt as a result of the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen.
The video is co-produced by Setara Films and the Yemen Campaign, and offers snippets of the calamity experienced by Yemeni families who had planned temporary trips to Egypt to receive medical support, only to find themselves stranded in Egypt and barred from returning back home.
According to the video, since the beginning of Saudi-led “Operation Decisive Storm” last March, 15-20 thousand Yemenis have become stranded worldwide. With wrecked airports and land, air and sea blockades imposed upon Yemen, over 5000 Yemenis are currently stuck in Egypt.
In the video, Gehad Al-Shwafi, doctor and member of the “Yemen: Extend a Hand” initiative, asserts that most of the Yemenis currently stranded in Cairo suffer from serious medical conditions, and face difficulties when it comes to affording housing and paying rent.
While the initiative tries to offer housing for distressed members of the Yemeni community in Egypt, Al-Shwafi explains that it would be difficult to sustain such assistance if and as the crisis in Yemen drags on.
Amongst the stories depicted is that of a colon-cancer patient who had come to Egypt, accompanied by her son Abdulmalek Dahaba, to receive medical treatment. She died weeks later and the son’s attempt at transferring his mother’s body to the homeland was rendered impossible. He eventually lost hope and buried his mother in Egypt.
The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that Yemenis in Egypt cannot receive financial assistance from family members back in Yemen, since money transfers have been blocked as a result of the war.
Another case is that of Muhannad, a child battling cancer for the third time. Muhannad came to Egypt two months ago to remove his tumour, but doctors decided to begin with chemotherapy sessions to curb the tumour first, prolonging Muhannad’s stay as a result.
In the video, Ali Al-Kurdi, Muhannad’s uncle says that the family did not plan a long stay. While chemotherapy is offered for free at Yemen’s Cancer Institute, Al-Kurdi asserts this isn’t the case in Egypt. He also adds that seeking support from Yemen-based charities is now interrupted because of the war.
Recently a Facebook page, Stranded-Yemenies, was founded and is moderated by Ishaq. Its aim is to help members of the stranded Yemeni community by securing donations and providing them with shelter, food and medicine.
The video also reveals how Yemenis who have sought help from the Yemen Embassy in Cairo-- either to afford housing, or to return back home-- encountered major disappointments.
“Yemeni people are being humiliated, we just want to go home,” says a Yemeni woman standing in front of the embassy.
According to one Yemeni, “with two daily flights, the stranded could return home within two weeks.”
“We thought we’d come to Egypt to get better. Instead, our situation has gone from bad to worse by being here. But what can we do?” Khayzarana Mohammed, a relative of another Yemeni cancer-patient says.
According to the video, 200 stranded Yemenis returned to Yemen during the five-day humanitarian ceasefire announced on 12 May. 5000 Yemenis remain stranded in Egypt.
“The rest await their fate in the hope that they will return home soon,” reads the video’s closing line, as Balfaqeeh’s famous lyrics come to the forefront again.