The alarm grows on the Americans stranded in Yemen amid a pandemic

Proponents warn that thousands of US citizens remain stranded in Yemen for more than three months after the country closed its borders to stop the spread of the new coronavirus pandemic.

Approximately 300 of the stranded citizens were brought home by the State Department on two flights on June 28 and July 1, but advocates have voiced alarm about those remaining in the country in what they characterize as a situation every more desperate.

Yemen has been engulfed in five years of civil war, suffering the worst humanitarian crisis in human history that is threatened by increasing cases of COVID-19 in a health system that has essentially collapsed.

“All Americans deserve to be protected by their government when they are in danger in a foreign country and repatriated under a public health emergency that has truly impacted the entire world,” said Ahmed Mohamed, director of litigation for the New York office. of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

American citizens in Yemen are one of the few groups not included in the State Department’s efforts to repatriate more than 100,000 Americans from 136 countries and territories. Those numbers were recorded through June 10.

The oversight echoes the criticism the State Department received in the early days of its repatriation efforts, and the abandoned Americans said they felt abandoned by the United States government.

One of the stranded Americans is Miriam Alghazali, a 31-year-old mother of four, whose return flight to the United States was canceled in mid-March when Yemen closed its borders.

Miriam Alghazali’s mother, Izdehar Alghazali, is in New York and has been trying for over three months to help her daughter and grandchildren return to the United States. .

Miriam Alghazali hoped to return to the US before giving birth to her fourth child, but went into premature labor in June in Sana’a, the rebel capital controlled by the Iranian-backed Houthis.

She has had to rely on the kindness of the neighbors to help her and her children and get the family food. Her mother is concerned that there is a limit to generosity, as all Yemenis are fighting under the civil war and the growing threat of COVID-19.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned last month that Yemen is “hanging on by a thread.” An estimated four out of five people need help saving lives and millions of children are on the brink of starvation, a UNICEF report warned last week.

Izdehar Alghazali said he has tried everything to find a way to bring his family home. The State Department told him to enroll the family in the agency’s STEP, the agency’s email counseling and update system, and to remain vigilant.

“We did it in March, they said they were still looking for the updates, which were not for the people in Yemen, and unfortunately they don’t have the embassy of the United States there. She is trapped, “said Izdehar Alghazali.

The US embassies and consulates in Yemen had closed years earlier as the war grew increasingly violent, so Izdehar Alghazali contacted the US embassies in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti and Jordan, to see if maybe they could help their daughter.

Izdehar Alghazali said the United States government has not recognized the seriousness of his situation.

“How does our government turn its back on its citizens? As a mother, I am devastated. … It is difficult because I feel that I am failing her and the children, ”she said.

Miriam Alghazali’s case is now being handled by CAIR, who advocates her return to the State Department. The group has estimated that around 2,000 people need help to return home.

The State Department did not provide a number of how many citizens have requested assistance, but a spokesperson said: “The demand for these flights currently exceeds capacity.”

The cost of the flights must be paid in advance, totaling around $ 1,500 per person. This is compared to other repatriation flights where Americans were able to sign promissory notes to pay for the cost of the flight later or request financial assistance.

Rep. Max RoseHouse Democrats Max Rose introduce bill aimed at preventing China from exploiting the coronavirus pandemic Republican Nicole Malliotakis wins the New York primaries to challenge Max Rose Fauci hints at a new approach to COVID testing- 19 MORE (DN.Y.), which has a large Yemeni American community in its district, said its office began receiving requests for help in late May and was able to help at least three families board the Department’s two flights. of State.

But he warned that more needs to be done, and quickly.

“Without an embassy, ​​without a consulate in Yemen, without vigorous American action for those who are trapped there: what you have represents a cruel and inhumane policy for the Yemeni diaspora and it is disgusting,” he told The Hill.

Ammad Wajahat Rafiqi, coordinator of civil rights and legal services for CAIR’s San Francisco office, said his group had asked the State Department to establish a communication channel for American citizens in Yemen even before the COVID pandemic- 19.

A State Department spokesman said the suspension of operations at the United States Embassy in Sana’a “has limited the ability of the United States government to provide emergency services to American citizens in Yemen.” The pandemic has further complicated matters.

“Despite the closure of borders and airports, we continue to evaluate possible repatriation options for all stranded US citizens in the region,” the spokesperson said.

When space is limited, the spokesperson said, the agency prioritizes those with the greatest medical needs first and according to guidance from the agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Izdehar Alghazali constantly worries that Miriam Alghazali and her children get sick, since they cannot go to the hospital for fear of getting a worse infection. She is afraid of running out of food. Furthermore, she is concerned about her daughter’s safety, being a single woman in a country that does not grant them rights, and living in a city controlled by the Houthis.

“The great fear of the Houthis is that they really have no respect for women and children,” he said. “We fear so many challenges and it is as if you were crying alone and trying to get there, but there is nobody at the end of the rope to get you out of this situation you find yourself in. . “