Some Yemenis would do “anything to get out of here” [Archives:2008/1180/Reportage]

August 11 2008

Amel Al-Ariqi and Alia Ishaq
The immigration of Yemeni youths is affecting our nation in various ways, one of which is what's sometimes called “brain drain,” as many intelligent youths leave the country hoping to find jobs with companies that will pay them what they're worth and where they can expand their existing talents.

The Yemen Times interviewed several Yemeni youths living in Canada, asking them about their lives there and any problems they face. According to them, most Yemenis are satisfied with their new lives halfway across the world, apart from personal issues such as maintaining their Yemeni identity while attempting to integrate into Western society.

Acquiring citizenship and a Canadian passport is an unquestionable desire. “Nearly all of us would like to have a Canadian passport,” says Lu'ai Ishaq, a 22-year-old university student living in Canada.

He notes that although not all of his Yemeni peers would like to spend their entire lives away from home and their families, obtaining a Canadian passport would secure other options for them if things don't work out when they return to Yemen.

Even though authorities, such as Immigration passport authority, don't have statistics, a noticeable number of youths either are leaving Yemen or at least desire to do so.

“I think it's quite natural,” remarks Rizqullah Sufyan, a 31-year-old Yemeni currently working in Canada. “Being a young person full of dreams and ambitions that are very difficult to fulfill in Yemen, it's understandable that people look to immigrate.” Sufyan decided to remain in his new country after completing his studies at a Canadian university.

He says he decided to do this so he'll be able to achieve more when he returns to Yemen in the future. “I want to return to Yemen strong, with solid work experience, financial stability and a back-up plan,” he explained.

He adds that he believes life is easier and better in Canada in terms of security, more freedoms, more family-friendly facilities, laws and moral behavior. “The real challenge is that once I fulfill all of my goals in Canada, will I have the courage to leave the good life behind and return to Yemen? Only time will tell,” Sufyan says.

According to Ishaq, lack of good job opportunities and lack of appreciation for one's qualifications made him want to leave Yemen. “I can understand why a lot of Yemenis would rather stay here in Canada,” he says. “The truth is that when they return to Yemen, they're never valued for their hard work and good positions usually are given to those with connections,” he adds.

Asked if some Yemenis marry Canadian women in order to obtain citizenship, Ishaq concedes that while some Yemenis do marry Canadian women, it's not always possible to tell if they're marrying simply for citizenship or for love. “Besides, there are new laws that make it much easier to become a resident, so why go to all of that trouble?” Ishaq notes.

Unpatriotic or not?

Some Yemenis feel that these intelligent youths, who have much to contribute to their society, are abandoning Yemen when they move to other countries, assuming that such youths have no love for their homeland.

However, Sufyan holds a different point of view. “The real question when it comes to patriotism is how much a person contributes to the betterment of his or her country. If he or she doesn't, then does it even matter if one lives in their native country or not?”

But to what extent is the dream of freedom and having a better life becoming an obsession for those Yemenis considering immigration as a possible solution?

“I'll do anything to get out of here,” admits 33-year-old Khalid, who has a “strong will” to emigrate to a European country where he may seek asylum, or if he's lucky, obtain citizenship.

Khalid is a father of two sons working in the marketing department of a private trading company in Sana'a. While he didn't complete university, he may be able to attain a high position within his company due to his honed communication and marketing skills.

“At first, I'm planning to go alone to a European country. Then, once I receive citizenship, my family will follow,” he continued.

Although Khalid hasn't yet decided to which country he'll immigrate, he's already planning to obtain citizenship or at least claim refugee status. “First, I'll go on a tourist visa and once I arrive, I'll claim that I experience discrimination in my country and I'll appeal for humanitarian refugee status,” he explains.

“So far, I haven't decided exactly what I'll tell them, but I could say that I was born a Shi'a and that when I changed my religious affiliation to Sunni, I experienced problems in my community,” he added. “Or, I could say that I'm under threat from revenge killing, which is widespread in Yemen, and that the involved authorities can't protect me and my family.”

Like many other young Yemeni men, Khalid believes that whatever the situation is in his new country of choice, he'll be able to surmount any obstacle to get and stay there. “Even if I don't obtain refugee status or citizenship, I'll be fine,” Khalid says, adding confidently, “These [European] countries are famous for respecting human rights, so they won't breach my rights as long as I live there.”

However, Khalid's plan doesn't contain any thoughts about supporting himself in a new country where he doesn't speak the language. “I'm not worried about that too much. Because such countries have something called social insurance and medical insurance, if I become a citizen, I can enjoy this insurance even if I'm not working,” he explains.

Another Yemeni man, 45-year-old business manager Qaid, has his own plan to obtain citizenship from a Scandinavian country. He plans to get there initially on a tourist visa. “I've agreed with Djibouti lady there to marry then I'll automatically receive citizenship,” he says, noting that he must pay a woman he's never met more than $5,000 to sign the marriage contract.

“I know we must prove that we're married, since the immigration authority will investigate us. According to information I've received from my friends there, this authority will put us under intense observation and question us on very personal and private matters to ensure that we're married,” Qaid explains.

“For this reason, I've decided to rent a room in her house – if she'll allow it – and then together, we can prepare ourselves for any type of questions,” he says, noting that he isn't the only Yemeni man to marry a strange, anonymous woman simply to obtain citizenship.

Originally from the southern Yemeni governorate of Lahj, Qaid plans to establish a company with his friend, who also plans to obtain citizenship the same way, and then open and operate a supermarket in their new country.

Qaid sees no problem switching his career from general manager of a business to grocer, although he has no knowledge of that profession and some may think he's taking a step down career-wise. “It would be a problem in Yemen, but there it's not. I can make more money there as a grocer than as a business manager in Yemen.”

Arranging fake marriages and making false claims about discrimination and persecution aren't the only methods youths use to obtain citizenship in Western countries. Some Yemenis go above and beyond by distorting their official identification documents such as visas or anything declaring their Yemeni nationality, instead pretending that they are from war-torn regions like Sudan or Somalia by exploiting their superficial physical similarities.

Khalid recounts, “I know someone from Hadramout who said he was from Darfur and requested refugee status. He simply burned his documents and educated himself on Sudan's political, economic and geographic characteristics in order to be ready when the immigration authority questioned him and he did obtain refugee status.”

Qaid and Khalid both feel confident that they can adapt to their new lifestyle, the different cultures and the mainly secular European countries. However such confidence may not last long, as many Yemenis have encountered difficulties integrating.

Fuad, 25, recently returned to Yemen from the United States after a few years of studying business at a U.S. university. He concedes that many Yemenis he met had difficulty integrating into their new society.

“I met some Yemeni men who prevented their wives from mixing with non-Yemeni women. Some even prevent their wives from leaving the house,” Fuad noted, pointing out that many Yemeni families in the U.S. send their teenaged sons and daughters to visit or study in Yemen for awhile in order to get in touch with the culture of their homeland.

But for men like Khalid and Qaid, who would do nearly anything – including lying, faking marriages, forging documents or pretending to be refugees – to obtain citizenship in the West, integration, finances and the living situation are of no concern. It's all about getting out.