NYIA and the Ministry of Immigrants [Archives:1998/46/Focus]

November 16 1998

This is an OPINION page.
Every week, a different intellectual writes a FOCUS on a pertinent issue! 

By: Shaker Al-Ashwal,
Vice President, 
Yemeni American League
The formation of the Ministry of Immigrants came as an abolishment of the Old National Yemeni Immigrant Association (NYIA). The latter succeeded only for a few years after its establishment and then became a failure. The NYIA failed to respond to the needs of the growing Yemeni communities abroad. Their services became limited to answering immigrants’ mails, and relaying their complaints to the authorities.
The centralized organization failed to address the issues of concern to the Yemeni immigrants and lacked a clear direction. The end result of that failure is the presence of representative branches, which, due to lack of supervision, became classical examples of corruption and mismanagement.
The NYIA’s failure is, in my opinion, a direct result of the lack of vision, and clear direction for that organization. While there might have been a sincere desire to serve the Yemeni immigrants and to strengthen their bond with their homeland; there were political aims that seems to have dominated the goals set for the organization. The constitution of the organization was a simple one, and didn’t anticipate or address the complex realities, which rose later. The organization failed to modify or change its direction to cope and respond to the changes that were taking place in the Yemeni communities abroad. It also failed to address the corruption and mismanagement that were prevalent in many of its branches.
The elections of those branches were a joke when they were held. The NYIA failed to encourage immigrants’ investments in Yemen. Simply put, the NYIA failed miserably in representing the Yemeni immigrants in Yemen, it also failed in serving the Yemeni communities abroad. Moreover, it created branches, which have left the Yemeni communities deeply, divided along regional and political lines because of the deep-rooted corruption and mismanagement that have gone unchecked and uncorrected.
The NYIA branches are defunct, dysfunctional where they exist. The duties of their officers have become ceremonial. An annual celebration is the only mean through which these organizations remind people of their existence. The New York branch has become the classical example of the failure of the National Yemeni Immigrant Association. It clearly highlights the inability of a centralized agency to supervise, control and direct organizations thousands of miles away. The failure of these branches has cost the community a great deal. They have made it difficult for other organizations to exist to serve the community and have wasted the human and financial resources of the community. Members of the community go to great pain in distancing themselves from those branches because of what they have come to symbolize; namely, corruption, and ignorance.
As a result, these organizations failed to attract the educated and professionals and failed to foster an environment in which the former can contribute. In addition to repelling community members, the administration of these branches (NYIA) has mismanaged financial resources and properties of the community. In New York City, for example, NYIA lost the community’s four story building, because of penalties and unpaid taxes.
What has the Ministry of Immigrants been doing? Has it been successful? Will it succeed? Unfortunately, the Ministry of Immigrants has not done anything to signal a change in their policies. One wonders about what the change of name was supposed to do for that establishment. Until now, the only change that immigrants have noticed is the name. The ministry has not shown much to reflect a change of the status quo.
Immigrant communities, especially in the U.S., have changed a lot in the past seven years. Increasingly, Yemenis are bringing their families to the U.S. to live. Such a change in the composition of the community should be seen as another motive to create strong organization that will address the issues of our immigrants.
The organizations that are not affiliated with the Ministry of Immigrants do not have the financial backing and authority given to the NYIA branches. More than ever our communities abroad need the guidance and direction to live successfully in their host societies, and to be instrumental in the development of Yemen. We have a great wealth of people and financial resources and we need to direct our resources to develop our communities and our homeland. Our Yemeni immigrants’ children do not pursue higher education, and those who have money, freeze it in building houses and villas they do not need.
The Ministry of Immigrants will have to redefine its relationship with the Yemeni communities abroad. It will have to develop, adopt and implement a clear program in response to the growing needs of the Yemeni communities abroad.