Chance to leave Yemen safely fading: MFA

Chance to leave Yemen safely fading: MFA
Dr Albakri Ahmad (left), dean of the Muis Academy; Mr Richard Grosse (in grey suit), Consul-General of the Singapore Consulate-General in Muscat, who is also leader of the Crisis Response Team; and Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials accompanying Singaporeans evacuated from Yemen.

TWENTY-THREE Singaporeans in Yemen have fled to safety from the tumultuous Middle East country over the past two weeks, with help from the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), which has warned that the window of opportunity for exit is narrowing.

It is understood that among them was a family of four, with two children aged three years old and one month old who had no travel documents.

Last Thursday, they were placed on a convoy arranged by the Philippines to ferry its citizens from Yemen's capital Sanaa to Saudi Arabia via Jizan, a Saudi region that borders Yemen.

At the Saudi border checkpoint, staff from the Singapore Consulate-General in Saudi city Jeddah issued the children with documents of identity so that they could enter Saudi Arabia. The family reached Jeddah last Friday and arrived in Singapore on Sunday.

Violence intensified in Yemen late last month after a coalition of nine Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia, started carrying out air strikes against Houthi Shi'ite rebels who overran Sanaa in September.

According to sources, another Singaporean family, which had refused to leave Yemen earlier despite being urged to by the MFA, left Sanaa last week on a 17-hour overland journey up north to Jeddah.

They received help from Malaysia, which had been approached by the MFA to help the Singaporeans. The family of six, including four children, flew home to Singapore last Tuesday.

Yesterday, the MFA said in a statement that it had helped to evacuate 23 Singaporeans from the conflict-torn country over the past fortnight.

Fifteen of them left between April 2 and April 9 through various means, while eight others left on a coach last Saturday, arranged by the MFA, which took them from Yemen's Tarim - where Al-Qaeda attacks are rampant - to Salalah in neighbouring Oman. Also on board were citizens of Brunei, Cambodia, India, Malaysia and Vietnam.

A Crisis Response Team (CRT) was dispatched to the Oman-Yemen border to receive the eight Singaporeans, who will be returning home later this week, according to the statement.

Commenting on MFA's latest evacuation, Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs, said he has been closely following news about Yemen.

"I was told that the journey (taken by the eight Singaporeans) stretched more than 20 hours, covering about 965km through mountainous terrain," he wrote on his Facebook page yesterday. He added that he prays that "those still there will keep safe".

It is not known how many Singaporeans are still in Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Middle East. Despite the breakout of unrest, some Singaporeans have chosen to remain there.

But the MFA warned in its statement: "The window of opportunity for Singaporeans to leave Yemen safely is narrowing."

"The CRT is planning another overland evacuation to bring Singaporeans out of Tarim, but this is contingent on the ground conditions which are increasingly difficult," it added, without elaborating on when the operation will take place.

The ministry also cautioned that "the rapidly deteriorating situation may well prevent MFA from mounting further evacuation operations".

Singaporeans in Yemen who have yet to contact the MFA or who require assistance are urged to contact the MFA Duty Officer (24 hours) on 6379-8800/8855 or e-mail mfa_duty_officer@mfa.gov.sg for advice and assistance.

leeck@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Apr 14, 2015.
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