Ramping up its evacuation plan for 4,000 Indians stranded in Yemen, the government is sending Minister of State for Overseas Indian Affairs General (Retd) V.K. Singh to oversee operations from the nearest port of Djibouti city. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also spoke to the Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, who is leading the air operation against Houthi rebels in the country, to brief him on Indian evacuation plans and “request his support and cooperation” for them. PM Modi also “conveyed his best wishes” to the Saudi King “for a quick resolution of the challenges in the neighbourhood.”
Mr. Singh will fly on Tuesday to Djibouti, where the government is hoping to bring one group of 400 Indians out of Aden by a commercial passenger ship to be then sent back to India. The Indian operations will comprise a combination of civil and military efforts, including two passenger liners, two Indian Air Force ‘Globemasters’ two Air India aircraft and three naval ships. “Unfortunately, despite warnings, our people only move at the last minute, and that has complicated the task,” Mr. Singh told The Hindu , “But we have learnt many lessons from our experience in Iraq and Libya last year and will try to bring them home soon.”
The immediate worry, Mr. V.K. Singh, is that the airports in Yemen are either closed or only open intermittently due to the violence by Houthi rebels and air strikes launched by the Saudi-led coalition of Gulf countries, who now control the airspace over Sana’a, and the Saudi government’s assistance would be required to facilitate more “flight
Eighty-five Indians, who were able to take a Yemenia Airways flight out of Sana’a, have already reached their homes in India, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told reporters on Monday.
The evacuation operations were announced after Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj held two meetings to coordinate efforts by different ministries. Ms. Swaraj met with Air Chief Marshall Arup Raha, senior officials from the Navy, Defence Ministry, Ministry of Shipping and Civil Aviation Ministry. In a separate meeting, officials of the External Affairs Ministry met with Ms. Swaraj and decided to send a five-member team, including three diplomats, to Djibouti to help with the process of obtaining air and port clearances, as well as processing travel papers for the India does not have a mission in Djibouti. It is represented by the Indian Ambassador to neighbouring Ethiopia, Sanjay Verma, who will be stationed in Djibouti along with officials from the embassy in Egypt to aid the operations.
Officials told The Hindu that their efforts would be to “facilitate the travel of evacuees directly from Djibouti port and airport to the Indian aircraft as quickly as possible”, as there is limited accommodation in the East African nation with a population of only about 900,000.
The evacuation operations will be funded by the government’s special “community welfare fund” set up in 2009 for approximately six million Indian workers in 17 ‘ECR’ countries where emigration clearance is required.Since January 2015, the government had issued three advisories warning of the deteriorating situation in Yemen, where President Hadi has had to flee the country after rebel groups took over the capital city Sana’a. The danger to the roughly 4,000 Indians remaining there, a majority of whom belong to Kerala including hundreds of nurses, has been aggravated by the airstrikes launched by a Saudi-led coalition of 10 countries last week. The UN has evacuated all personnel from Yemen on Saturday. However, the MEA spokesperson said the Indian embassy in Sana’a will not shut down “as long as any Indian nationals require assistance in Yemen.”
Yemen on the brink
Who are fighting whom?
- ›Houthis: The rebel group controls nine of 21 provinces now
- ›Saudi-led coalition: Here are some of those who are participating and what they are deploying: Saudi Arabia: 100 fighter jets, 150,000 soldiers and some naval units UAE: 30 fighter jets Bahrain: 15 fighter jets Kuwait: 15 fighter jets Qatar: 10 fighter jets Jordan: 6 fighter jets Sudan: 3 fighter jets Egypt: naval and air forces involved.
- ›Yemeni security forces: The military is now split as units that support Mr. Hadi, units that support the Houthis, and units that support a still-influential Saleh, who is in the Houthi camp for now
- ›Popular Resistance Committees: Militia loyal to Hadi in his stronghold of south Yemen.
- ›AQAP: Mr. Hadi and Houthis are fighting al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has staged several attacks in the country and is strong in the south. Active since 2009. AQAP has taken advantage of the power struggle.
- ›IS: A new group of militants inspired by the Islamic State group has claimed major attacks, including suicide bombings which killed at least 142 people at Shia mosques in Sana’a.
- ›U.S.: CIA drones have continued to target top AQAP leaders, but the campaign has suffered from Mr. Hadi’s absence. Last week, U.S. military advisers were withdrawn from a southern base as al-Qaeda militants seized a nearby city.
Who are the Houthis?
The Houthis are followers of the Shia Zaidi sect, the faith of around a third of Yemen’s population. Officially known as Ansarallah (the partisans of God), the group began as a movement preaching tolerance and peace in the Zaidi stronghold of North Yemen in the early 1990s.
After some protests pitted it against the government, the group launched an insurgency in 2004 against the then ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh that lasted till 2010. Their opponents view them as a proxy of Shia Iran. The group is hostile to the United States but has also vowed to eradicate al-Qaeda. They participated in the 2011 Arab Spring inspired revolution in Yemen that replaced Saleh with Abdrahbu Mansour Hadi.
Key dates to the Yemen conflict
- ›September 21, 2014: Houthi rebels seize government and military sites in Sana’a after several days of fighting that killed more than 270 people. Rival groups sign a U.N.-brokered peace deal stipulating a Houthi withdrawal from the capital and formation of a new government.
- ›October 9, 2014: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has declared war on the Houthis, claims an attack in Sana’a in which 47 are killed.
- ›October 14, 2014: The Houthis seize the Red Sea port of Hodeida, 230 km west of Sana’a, then move toward the centre without opposition from government forces but face fierce resistance from AQAP and its tribal allies.
- ›January 20, 2015: Houthis attack Mr. Hadi’s residence and seize the presidential palace, and the President and Prime Minister resign two days later.
- ›February 6, 2015: The rebels announce they have dissolved Parliament and installed a presidential council to run the country. The United States and Gulf monarchies accuse Iran of backing the Houthis. In the south and southeast, authorities reject what they brand a coup attempt.
- ›February 21, 2015: Mr. Hadi flees south to Aden after escaping from weeks under house arrest and urges the international community to “reject the coup,” rescinding his resignation and subsequently declaring Aden the temporary capital.
- ›March 19, 2015: Clashes in which at least 11 are killed force the closure of the international airport in Aden and Mr. Hadi is moved to a more secure location after an air raid on the presidential palace there.
- ›March 22, 2015: The Houthis advance southwards, seizing the airport and a nearby military base in Taez, north of Aden and a strategic entry point to Mr. Hadi’s stronghold. Houthi leader Abdelmalek al-Houthi says the rebels have moved south to combat Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.
- ›March 25, 2015: Mr. Hadi is again moved as rebel forces bear down on Aden, capturing a major airbase nearby just days after U.S. military personnel were evacuated from it.