GOTHENBURG — I'm often asked: "Where do Yemenis escape to?" Syrians largely flee to Lebanon and Turkey, but where do Yemenis go?
"The majority cannot afford to flee," I respond. "For those who can afford it, their destination always depends on which country hasn't closed its borders to Yemenis." Often, they head west, across the Red Sea, to Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Egypt — the latter having always been the closest escape and preferred getaway.
Due to its proximity and the two countries' historically close relations, Egypt has not only been a favored destination for many Yemenis, but is also an influential player in Yemen's politics. Notably, Egypt played a significant role in the course of Yemen's September 26 Revolution and the Civil War that followed (1962-1970). As part of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's expansionist foreign policy, Egypt supported the creation of the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR), with thousands of Egyptian troops deployed and weapons supplied.
Around 15,000 Egyptian soldiers were killed, some of whom were buried in a graveyard in the heart of Sanaa, later named the "Egyptian martyrs' cemetery." At that time, Egypt opened its doors to numerous Yemeni revolutionary republicans, writers and activists, such as, Abdel Rahman al-Baydani, who presented a radio talk show on Cairo radio.
Many Yemenis have completed their university education in Cairo and made use of Egypt's health care system, with both education and health care in Yemen being strained. Moreover, it is not unusual to find mixed-nationality families, due to intermarriages over the years. Such is the case for my own family, as two of my relatives married Egyptians and had children.
Egypt continues to play a role in Yemen's ongoing conflict today. Since March 2015, it has been one of the members in the Saudi-led coalition that is fighting Houthis. While the details of what this actually involves are scant, we know that Egypt deployed around 8,000 ground troops in Yemen in 2015.
Despite this military intervention, Yemenis are still fleeing to Egypt. For many years, Yemen and Egypt had a mutual visa-free entry agreement, but, in 2013, things began to change. Egypt started to enforce visa requirements for Yemeni citizens, asking them to apply at the Egyptian embassy in Sanaa. Then, in 2014, the Egyptian embassy, like all other embassies in the city, was evacuated and Yemenis had to face fast-changing and complicated visa requirements and customs regulations stipulated by Egyptian authorities. Today, Yemenis under 16 and over 50 still benefit from free-visa entry, but all others must apply for a visa at the nearest Egyptian embassy. Yemenis coming to Egypt for medical treatment are exempted, but they must show an Egyptian medical report confirming their condition.
The UAE and U.S. have made it clear that Yemeni citizens are unwelcome.
These restrictions are still relatively fair, in comparison to other countries that have made it almost impossible for Yemenis to enter. Many countries have imposed complicated and difficult visa requirements on Yemeni citizens, especially after the war broke out. For instance, Turkey, which used to have a free-visa policy for Yemenis, today requires that applicants prove that they have been to Turkey previously, otherwise their visa applications will not be processed. Jordan, which also used to have visa-free entry for Yemenis, now requires applicants to provide proof they have 6,000 euros in order to obtain a visa upon arrival. It is difficult to imagine the average citizen of a nation known as the poorest in the Arab world being able to afford such an exorbitant fee. The United Arab Emirates and the United States have made it clear that Yemeni citizens are unwelcome, and have enforced a total travel ban on Yemeni nationals.
The discrimination Yemenis face while applying for visas worldwide is a long and old story that requires a separate article. Those I spoke to shared a great deal of anguish and heartache regarding the process. Having said that, many also highlighted the relative ease with which Egypt grants some Yemenis six-month residency permits, which are then reviewed, with the potential for renewal.
The number of Yemenis in Egypt is on the rise. An estimated 1,000 people registered with the UNHCR in 2016, and around 4,000 in 2017, although these numbers are not reflective of the actual influx of Yemenis to the country. Many people do not register for refugee status, or use Egypt as a temporary destination on route to other countries. Several of those I spoke to tell stories of staying in Egypt for longer than they initially planned.
I spent time in Cairo myself in December 2017, seeking to meet Yemenis and document their stories.
Walking around the bustling Dokki area in Cairo nowadays gives you the impression that you are walking down the street in one of Yemen's large cities. Since the 1990s, Yemenis have created a "little-Yemen" in Dokki, with restaurants, shops and cafes springing up as a result of increasing migration and the building of communities.
Signs of war are also visible on many faces.
The various Yemeni dialects can be casually heard on the streets in Dokki, but the signs of war are also visible on many of the faces of those I saw and met. Some have obvious injuries to their faces, bandages on their arms or walk with the aid of crutches. Others may not have visible injuries, but show signs or speak of other forms of psychological distress, including many of my journalist colleagues. Militias, both from the north and south of Yemen, are largely responsible for this trauma.
Reporters Without Borders' ranked Yemen 167 out of 180 countries in its 2018 report, reflecting the deteriorating conditions for many who work in the media. Systematic patterns of arbitrary arrest, forced disappearances, media center closures, unfair prosecutions and trials — one of which resulted in a death sentence that was overturned under international pressure — are among the many violations Yemeni journalists have faced from all warring parties, as documented by Yemen's Muwatana organization.
The dozens of Yemeni journalists who reside in Cairo today are not just displaced, they are fugitives. Some have escaped captivity, torture, death threats, or assassination attempts and are in hiding. Many of them are reluctant to be interviewed for fear of exposure.
As I write this from the safety of my own refuge in Gothenburg, Sweden, I have been reflecting on how to share the plight of the Yemeni community in Cairo without risking their lives or jeopardizing my own chances of getting back into Egypt to see my relatives and continue reporting.
The situation of Yemeni refugees receives little media attention. One Yemeni young man in Cairo told me, "Yemenis here are waiting, either for the war to end so they might return home, or for some other unknown end."
But there is no end in sight right now for the Yemen conflict, which has only grown in size and complexity in recent months. In the meantime, the attention of international media and humanitarian organizations is desperately needed to help alleviate the suffering of Yemenis, both inside and outside of Yemen.
*Afrah Nasser is a Yemeni independent reporter and blogger who reports from Sweden on human rights violations, women's issues, and press freedom in Yemen. She was awarded the 2017 International Press Freedom Award.
With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.
CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.
Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.
It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.
Abundant sunshine, low temperatures
The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.
Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.
It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.
Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park
Chinese want to expand
The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.
The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.
The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.
The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.
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