Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Could remaining Jews be stuck in Yemen?

Have the remaining Jews of Yemen missed their chance to leave? This Jerusalem Post article by Haviv Rettig Gur suggests that the window to move to the US has now closed. The Marhabi-dominated clan in the Sana'a compound who form the bulk of the remaining Jews may feel that to leave Yemen now, after the government has housed them in the capital under state protection, would be a betrayal.

There are many unknowns concerning the situation of the last Jews remaining in wartorn Yemen.

A family of Yemeni Jewish...

A family of Yemeni Jewish olim arrives at Ben Gurion International Airport.
Photo: AP [file]

As the country faces a growing conflict with Islamist tribes and terror organizations, including a major presence, its last 120 or so Jews face ever-growing dangers without any clear channel for a concerned Jewish world to determine their situation or pull them out of harm's way.

Of perhaps 260 Jews left in Yemen at the start of 2009, about 80 were granted refugee status by the US government and have been absorbed by a Jewish community outside New York City. About 60 more were brought to Israel in a quiet Jewish Agency operation over several months.

According to Gregg Rickman, a former US anti-Semitism czar who was instrumental in obtaining the refugee visas, the situation of the remaining 120 remains unclear.

"Those who wanted to apply for an American refugee visa had an August deadline, which encompassed getting to the embassy for a visa interview, filing the application and flying out once approved. Those who could make it and wanted to, did," said Rickman.

But many did not. Over a hundred remain in a special compound in the capital, San'a, living under the protection of government forces. Many moved there from Raida in the north, a town close to some of the recent fighting.

"They had their chance [to leave], but maybe many were fearful of being seen making their way to the US Embassy. Some even remain - we don't know how many - in Raida itself out of fear of abandoning their property without getting compensation from the government," Rickman said.

With the end of the American visa offer and the difficulties inherent in coming to Israel, "I believe they're in danger and may be stuck there," he said.

The trickle to Israel is likely to continue, though Jewish Agency officials, including Aliya Department director-general Eli Cohen, remained mum this week on the possibility.

"It makes sense from a security perspective to take them out in a trickle so they don't raise suspicion," said Rickman. "When we were talking about this [in the US State Department], the fear was that you'd have them all show up at the airport in one day. These people don't look like everybody else in Yemen."

Read article in full

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