Counting on Emigrants for Development [Archives:1999/15/Reportage]

April 12 1999

The Consultative Council concludes today, Monday, April 12th, a 3-day hearing on Yemeni emigrants and their role in nation-building. Coordinated with the Ministry of Emigrants’ Affairs, the CC heard from various experts. 
“We have discussed the factor of emigration across time. You know, we are a nation of emigrants,” said Abdulaziz Abdulghani, Speaker of the CC. He was referring to the ancient waves of population movements out of Yemen. Indeed, most Arabs today trace their ancestory to Yemen. 
The speaker pointed to the visible contribution of emigrants to Yemen’s development process. “A very high percentage of all investments in Yemen are undertaken by emigrants,” he disclosed. Indeed, some 80% of all projects licensed under the Investment Law are financed by emigrants. 
In addition to the economic dimension, the CC hearings also addressed the social issues involved in intermarriages among Yemeni emigrants and their host populations. In some cases, some level of discrimination has resulted, especially against the children of Yemeni emigrants born of African mothers. That has become a focal point as the nation tries to grapple with the issue. “All relevant authorities have been alerted to interact on the basis of the law,” he added. 
Mr. Abdulghani indicated that many successful Yemeni emigrants have ploughed back large amounts of money to the homeland. He also indicated that many people of Yemeni extract now occupy ministerial and other senior government positions in such countries as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Djibouti, Comoro Islands, etc. “These people still hold love and affection for Yemen and come to visit every now and then. They are an important bridge for understanding, cooperation and international harmony.” 
The speaker indicated that the CC holds many hearings on issues of pertinent important to nation-building. “We held similar discussions on fishing, health, population growth, security and vengeance, etc. In all cases we draw up recommendations and conclusions and pass them to the President of the Republic. He then refers them to the government and other implementing agencies,” he said. 
Dr. Ahmed Al-Bishari, Minister of Emigrants Affairs, described the hearings as an important prelude to the First National Conference ion Emigrants which will start on the 15th of May, 1999. He described the coming conference as an important link-point between the country and the Yemeni diaspora. 
“Our conference comes at a time of major upheaval in societies in which large Yemeni immigrant communities live. You realize that large immigrant Yemeni communities live in such countries as Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and other parts of East Africa, as well as in Indonesia and elsewhere. These places have witnessed major changes which require that we remain informed of the conditions,” the minister said. 
He also indicated that representative delegations from all the diaspora will come for the May 15th conference. “It will be a chance to show them the political and economic transformation of the nation, and how they can play a role in such evolution.”Towards that end, there will be many meetings for the delegates with various officials. “We seek to present the true picture of the situation here at home, and to discuss ways and means to facilitate the full and positive interaction of the emigrants with the homeland,” he said. 
Indeed, Dr. Al-Bishari and a team of support staff from fourteen different ministries and government bodies have been preparing for the conference for over a year now. “All the forty or so presentations made at the hearings with the Consultative Council will be put together in a book that will be printed in time for the May 15th conference. This is  
the basic data on which the interaction will take place,” he said. 
Speaking about the relations between the hearings at the Consultative Council during 10-12 April and the First National Conference on Emigrants to start on May 15th, the minister pointed out that the hearings address the issues and propose recommendations. Hopefully, these are then transformed into solutions to be adopted before the conference. As examples, the minister pointed to the difficulties associated with the issuance of passports and identity cards. “For example, the new law requires that no family members are added to the same passport. Every individual, in spite of age, has to have a passport if he/she is travelling. Imagine the cost of getting a dozen or so passports for an emigrant family? We have obtained an initial 25% reduction in fees, followed by another reduction to be worked this week, just for emigrants,” he added. 
Another example has to do with the difficulty of obtaining identity cards. “Since we do not have a complete civil registry, and as the nation is flooded by waves of refugees from East Africa, it is natural that some strict requirements are applied. Even then, we have now agreed to develop a joint form which will be used by the community elders in the diaspora to introduce members who are interested in obtaining Yemeni identity cards or other documents,” he said. He also said that there was an earlier experience on which new arrangements can be built. “Under instructions from President Ali Abdullah Saleh, delegations had twice visited the Yemeni communities in East Africa to issue identity cards for them. We can build on that experience.” 
Dr. Ahmed Al-Bishari then pointed to the large number of studies and documents that have been prepared in the CC hearings. “These documents show the continued attachment of Yemenis to their original homeland. Even when they emigrate to affluent societies like the USA and the UK, they retain their attachment to Yemen, and come back in their old age,” he pointed out. 
He also indicated that the Yemeni diaspora contributed heavily to the freedom movement in the south, and the revolution in the north. “That is why holding the First National Conference for Emigrants on the 15th is very timely. The delegations will be on hand to participate in the anniversary of the 22nd of May – the day the new Yemen was re-born,” Al-Bishari said. 
Many delegates will be received in audience by senior government officials, including the President of the Republic Mr. Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the Prime Minister Dr. Abdul-Karim Al-Iryani. Some of them will be honored for their patriotic roles. 
But the thrust of the May Conference will be to discuss the economic prospects and business opportunities. That is the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Aden Free Zone Authority are in full play. In addition, different parts of the private sector, especially the bankers and investment houses have been brought in to become full partners in the preparations for the conference. 
With respect to the CC hearings on emigrants, forty studies and documents were presented in four major sections, as follows: 
A: The Historic Dimension; 
B: The Economic Investment Dimension; 
C: The Media, Culture and Social Dimension; 
D: The Board of Emigrants Dimension. 
One of the major developments during the CC hearings was the announcement of the establishment of an NGO to help better integrate the children of former emigrants into society. The “Charitable Society for the Children of Emigrants” is a new NGO whose mandate is to assist the children of former emigrants in adjusting and in obtaining proper official documents. The Preparatory Committee for this NGO opened its registry for membership applications and announced that elections of the board of trustees and the discussion of the charter will take place before the date of the start of the conference on May 15th. 
By: Ahlam Al-Mutawakil, 
Yemen Times.