Yemenis Trapped Under Bombardment in Ukraine Shelters


Wed, 02-03-2022 03:13 PM, Aden

Chernihiv (South24) 

Seven Yemeni students and migrants, some of whom fled the civil war in Yemen, are still trapped in one of the shelters allocated by the Ukrainian police to the residents of Chernihiv province in northern Ukraine, with the Russian-Ukrainian war entering its seventh day, according to "South24" sources in Ukraine.

The story of these seven Yemenis began in September 2021, when they decided to cross the border crossings between Poland and Ukraine on foot searching for security and peace in the territory of the European Union.

There, "we turned ourselves in to the Polish authorities after we ran out of water and food and asked for asylum. After three days of investigations, the Polish authorities refused our request, and on September 14 forcibly returned us to Ukrainian territory, where we were sentenced to six months' detention."

Poland is a member state of the European Union, which guarantees the right of asylum in accordance with international treaties and asylum laws, under the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees.

Nearly six months after Ukrainian authorities held them in a facility on the border with Belarus, the facility's guards released them on February 24, hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the start of the invasion of Ukraine.

Azal Al Salafi a Migration and Protection fellow researcher based in Frankfurt who led a campaign on social media to help the stranded Yemenis pass to safe areas along with other activists told South24 that hundreds from the Yemeni community in Ukraine most of them students are still stranded in the Ukrainian cities or struggling along the Polish border. 

"Dozens of Yemenis mainly students in Ukraine are stuck in the borders to Poland, others are still travelling within Ukraine to reach different borders, what they need is transportation, shelter, food flight tickets and visas to transit counties or they need the EU to accept them" Ms Al Salafi told South24. 

"The situation is really bad, some of the students who have been in touch with me have successfully crossed the borders to Poland meanwhile others are still stuck on the borders, they have been without food for days, they sleep in freezing cold without covers, no shelters no toilets, they are really exhausted and hopeless" she said.

"The group who arrived on the Polish border are approximately 4oo Yemenis, other bunches are still stranded in the Ukrainian cities where they caught amid the clashes " she added.

The seven Yemenis explained their suffering in a letter they sent to "South24": "When the sounds of shelling began and war broke out on Thursday, February 24, we demanded the Ukrainian authorities which detained us to evacuate us to a safe place, but they refused and released us that afternoon into the middle of the forest."

"For 24 hours, under the cold and snow, we walked more than 50 kilometers to search for a safe destination, amidst the constant clashes and shelling. We passed through military barracks and some were threatened and robbed by bandits." Someone told "South24" on the phone that "transportation services are down, and there are no vehicles on the roads that can pick us up."

Seven Yemenis managed to reach the city of Chernihiv. But the bombing and confrontations had intensified in the city. Ukrainian media reported that Russian forces tried to storm the city several times. So far, heavy shelling has focused on some of its neighborhoods.

Two days ago, the Russian Defense Ministry said its forces had cordoned off the city of Chernihiv, about 150 kilometers north of the capital, Kyiv.

"The closure of the city has been completed," spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in comments carried by the Russian news agency Interfax.

There is no solution for now

Due to the city’s closure, Yemeni migrants told "South24": “We had to sleep in a hostel and on the street, until the city security authorities allowed us to stay in an underground shelter for the city’s residents. Five minutes after we entered we heard a huge bombardment, which turned out to be the building directly next door."

The trapped Yemenis say that they have made contact with all relevant international organizations and the Yemeni embassy in Poland, "but we have not found a solution until this moment."

"South24" continues to follow up and monitor the struggle of Yemeni migrants from the moment they were released from detention, when the war in Ukraine initiated.

On Sunday, the Yemeni Foreign Ministry said it had facilitated the departing procedures for 22 Yemeni citizens from Ukraine to neighboring Poland and Romania.

Reports estimate that the number of Yemenis who are present in Ukraine for the purpose of study or work is approximately 1,000.

On Sunday, the Yemeni embassy in Hungary announced that it had contacted the Hungarian authorities to inquire about procedures for dealing with arrivals from Ukraine to the Hungarian border, including Yemenis.

The Yemeni embassy in Austria also said that it had contacted the Slovak Republic, which stated that Yemeni citizens coming from Ukraine are allowed to enter the country on the condition that they prove their official residence, and without visa requirement.

For seven days, violent clashes has been escalating in eastern and northern Ukraine, after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a "special Russian military operation in Ukraine", amid condemnation and Western sanctions.

Racism and rejection

The Russian-Ukrainian war, according to the United Nations, portends huge waves of refugees. More than half a million people have fled Ukraine.

Press reports said that the Polish authorities dealt "racistly" and in a discriminated manner against some of those fleeing from Ukraine. Citizens of other countries and workers from Africa and Asia were prevented from boarding transport across the Ukrainian border.

The UN Secretary-General rejected discrimination against foreign nationals. "The Secretary-General strongly repudiates, in any shape or form, all discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, in the context of this conflict, as well as in terms of the treatment of people trying to leave Ukraine to seek refuge in another country," said a spokesman for the Secretary-General, Stéphane Dujarric.

The Polish border guards, however, justified this by saying that "all people fleeing the war are allowed to cross the border into Poland. In the case of some foreigners, the border guards have to act separately in accordance with their legal duties, but no one is deported to Ukraine."

We left our country because of “war, instability, unemployment, corruption and injustice,” one of the trapped people from South Yemen told "South24". “We did not expect this fate and we do not know how we will get out of all this, but we still have hope.”

Yemen has also witnessed a civil war that has been going on for seven years in a row, after the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels took control of Sanaa, and the conflict expanded to include the intervention of countries neighboring the poor country. The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is the worst in the world.

South24 Center for News and Studies
Photo: Yemeni migrants, intending to seek safe haven on foot (Photo: South24)