Yemen’s Relations With Its Immigrants [Archives:1999/13/Viewpoint]

March 29 1999

Next week, the Consultative Council will hold extended hearings on the “Role of Emigrants in Yemen’s Development Process”. A month later, that will be followed by the Second National Conference on Emigrants.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh makes it a point to meet with the Yemeni diaspora in his international travels. He went all the way to Birmingham to meet with the 12,000 British citizens of Yemeni extract during his UK visit. He met with them in Singapore. He met with them Indonesia and Malaysia. Senior officials constantly talk about the need to maintain the link with our people abroad.

But Yemen’s relations can be separated into two distinct and often contradictory parts – relations with Yemenis abroad, and relations with the emigrants when they come back to Yemen. Let us look at the details.

Relations with the Diaspora:
It looks like Yemen is interested in stronger links with the Yemeni diaspora for selfish reasons – it wants their money. The President and other senior officials run from place to place inviting them to bring their money. They know there are some US$ 25 billion in Yemeni assets stashed away abroad. They have their eyes set on this money.
So, they tend to court them in the hope that some of them will bring their wealth to Yemen and share it with them…

Relations within Yemen:
Once a former emigrant is back in Yemen, he/she is given hell. There are immediate attempts to take away as much of his/her money as possible. They are seen as an easy prey.
To add insult to injury, the emigrants’ children, especially if they are born of African mothers, are discriminated against. They are seen as second or third class citizens. This attitude is basically a North Yemeni one based on tribal values of racial purity or whatever.
After unity, and especially after the war, our Southern brothers adopted even more aggressive positions, simply because they want to show they belong and share the tribal values… What a pity!

Contribution of Yemenis Abroad:
History shows that since the September 26th Revolution of 1962, Yemenis abroad have sent back around US$ 65 billion to the ‘homeland’. Most of the money was used to build the new cities and to construct monumental dwellings in the countryside. The lofty buildings of Yaffea, Hugarriah, Ibb and other places offer visible testimony. Still, a lot of it was literally eaten up in the phenomenal rise in consumption.

What is really ugly in the attitude of the state and the general public is the racist element in this phenomenon. Children of former emigrants born of African mothers – the so-called muwalladeen, continue to suffer from discrimination. It was actually the Yemeni emigrants in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and elsewhere who financed the Revolution and the Free Movement in Aden.
What a way to pay them back!