By Jihan Anwar
One doesn’t need a source at the Ministry of Tourism to know that Yemen’s tourism industry is on life-support. News of kidnappings, bombings and assassinations haven’t helped the sector, but less obvious is the declining number of Yemenis traveling abroad.
The post-9/11 world impacted Yemen immensely. Politically, socially, economically, it’s a different world for her citizens. The uprising that led to the ouster of Yemen’s 33-year president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, also left the economy in tatters. Yemenis hoping to go abroad, particularly to the West, have long waits for visas. Even those married to foreign citizens can wait years to be reunited with their spouses abroad.
“It’s estimated that the number of Yemenis travelling abroad has decreased by about 40 percent in the past two years,” stated travel agent, Nadhem Sallam. For Yemenis that do travel, the most active months are from May to September.
During the uprising, those who could afford to travel to more stable countries did so. “On one hand, they’re technically tourists. But really, they’re just escaping a tough situation,” said Layla Al Shaeri, a travel agent.
Ali Naji, who also works at a travel agency, said that he’s also seen an increase in medical tourism, where residents travel to a different country to seek treatment. “Germany, Jordan and Egypt are the most common destinations for Yemenis heading abroad for treatment. They’re usually gone for three to four months,” Naji said.
Tradesmen are most likely to travel to China, with Yemeni-Chinese trade strengthening. There are an estimated 500 Yemenis living and working in China.
For education, Maylasia and India are popular destinations. Yemenis consider Malaysian and Indian educations to be of higher quality, with more manageable costs than the U.S. or Europe. “Friends who’ve been to Malaysia rave about it. Some stuck around for graduate degrees, extending their stays,” said student, Abdulwahed Naser. “The cost of living was reasonable and there are plenty of tourist attractions.”
Many Yemenis consider the UAE a desirable place to work. Ahlam Elmi stated that she would rather settle in Dubai than Yemen. She spent part of her childhood there, and witnessed the rapid development of the city.
Khalid Abdullah, a taxi driver, would choose to migrate to Germany or the UAE if had a choice. A man who rented an apartment belonging to Abdullah’s family lived in Dubai for 10 years as a military officer. His salary, Abdullah said, amounted to YR 250 thousand a month. When he passed, his family was given YR 15 million, or about USD 70 thousand, from the Emirati government, Abdullah said.
Legal entry into Saudi Arabia can be difficult, and VISA costs deter many. A visa to KSA costs SR 15 thousand, or about USD 4000. Adam Al Sufi, a financial manager, said that his sponsorship fees alone would have amounted to USD 1200.
Though work opportunities are tempting, some Yemenis fear heading for the West. Mona Abu Ubaidah, a university secretary, said she feared racism and discrimination against Arabs in Europe. If given the opportunity, Ubaidah would head to Malaysia to study.
For those without the means or inclination to travel outside of Yemen, Aden and Taiz remain popular cities. Soqotra, which requires higher travel costs, is outside the budget for many Yemenis.
Some dream of heading to the land where the streets are paved with gold. “I have relatives that live in California, and they say there are plenty of work opportunities,” said Ammar AlAnisi. Like many Yemenis, AlAnis does not want to settle outside of Yemen forever. “I would eventually want to get back to Yemen. No matter where you go, you’ll never be home outside of your homeland.”