Thousands of Americans remain stranded in the war-torn nation of Yemen after coronavirus restrictions closed the borders in mid-March, activist are now calling attention to the severity of the problem.
According to Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), thousands of Americans have been stranded in Yemen after borders and airports closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, as was first reported by The Hill Friday.
Ahmed Mohamed, litigation director for CAIR, told Fox News Friday that the organization has received over 500 requests of assistance from Americans stuck in Yemen, and the State Department has received over 2,000.
The State Department scheduled two flights that brought home approximately 300 Americans, on June 28 and July first, but they have not addressed the thousands of other American’s still attempting to return home.
“There’s anywhere from 1,500 or more Americans who are still stranded in Yemen trying to find a way back to the United States and they can’t – and right now they’re not getting any help from their government,” Mohamed told Fox News.
“It’s disturbing that our government has not done more for its citizens who are trapped in a foreign country that’s in the middle of a civil war, middle of a COVID-19 pandemic.”
The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said Yemen is “the world’s largest humanitarian crisis” and that “four out of every five people in Yemen need lifesaving aid.”
“The situation in Yemen is catastrophic,” U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said in a statement. “This is what more than five years of war have done to Yemen. The health system is in a state of collapse,” Lowcock said, adding that the coronavirus is spreading at a much higher rate than any other country.
Mohamed says the State Department needs to address why for three months they did not make efforts to evacuate American’s from Yemen as they did in “dozens and dozens if not a hundred different countries around the world.”
“It looks like the State Department sat on its hands for three months, hoping that no one would find out that these Americans were stranded,” Mohamed told Fox News.
They have never been able to receive an “adequate response” as to why more Americans have been unable to return to the U.S., simply saying that they do not have adequate resources in Yemen as the U.S. Embassy closed in 2015, at the start of the civil war.
As a result, “easily dozens” of Americans have been stranded in Yemen for months and in many cases, people are in need of consulate assistance for a variety of reasons – as in the case of Miriam Alghazali, an American, born and raised in New York, who has been stranded in Yemen and was unable to return to the U.S. to give birth.
Alghazali traveled with her husband and three children in August 2019 to visit her mother-in-law in Yemen, who was terminally ill. By December her mother-in-law had passed away and her husband, Izdehar Alghazali, returned to the U.S. with one of their children to secure an apartment while Miriam, who had become pregnant, stayed with their other two children.
On the day the Alghazali family were scheduled to fly home, Yemen closed their borders, Mohamed told Fox News.
Their requests to leave Yemen were not answered by the State Department.
Alghazali gave birth in early June, six weeks premature, after “gunfire and rocket fire” were heard above the apartment where she and her two children were staying.
The Alghazali family was then unable to get onto the two scheduled flights that left Yemen in late June and early July because the infant did not have a passport, and therefore was not allowed to fly, Mohamed told Fox News.
The State Department has reportedly told the family and the representatives at CAIR that she will now need to go to a neighboring country to visit a U.S. consulate and retrieve a passport for their infant, in order to be allowed back into the U.S.
“Mind you the whole problem with Yemen is there’s no way to leave Yemen,” Mohamed said.
CAIR is continuing to advocate for the Alghazali family’s return to the U.S., along with thousands of other Americans.
“America is the world’s super power,” Mohamed said. “If America cannot secure its citizens, then that really speaks to America’s priorities, this government's priorities.”
A State Department official told Fox News the U.S. Embassy Sana’a's suspension of operations has limited the U.S. government's ability to provide emergency services to Americans citizens in Yemen.
“In response to the pandemic, Yemeni authorities suspended international flights and closed Yemen's borders in mid-March, which presented additional challenges to conducting emergency consular services services,” the official said. “Cases involving U.S. citizens in Yemen and areas where we do not have a consular presence are extremely complex, particularly with the ongoing pandemic.”
The official said that despite the border and airport closures, they continue to assess potential repatriation options for all U.S. citizens stranded in the region, but acknowledged the “demand for these flights exceeds capacity.”
“The Department of State was able to arrange two repatriation flights from Yemen,” the official said. “These repatriation efforts have brought home U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and the immediate family members of U.S. citizens.”