Global Citizens Press

For Yemenis Abroad, Helplessness Looms as the Yemen Economy Faces Collapse

Money from loved ones working abroad has helped many Yemeni families survive a civil war that has left their country on the brink of famine. But without peace, the future looks bleak.

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AHMED ALHLME, 45, works at a bodega in Manhattan. He has no immediate relatives in New York—his parents and wife are deceased—but he still has a large family to feed.

Almost 7,000 miles away, in his hometown of Sana’a, the rebel-held capital of Yemen, an estimated 50 members of his extended family depend on the money Alhlme sends from his wages at the bodega to survive. They include his only daughter, six brothers, two sisters and all of their families.

“I don’t know how they’re going to eat,” he said. “Whatever I can, I help.”

Civil war between the internationally recognized government and the Houthi rebels has plunged Yemen into a state of chaos. Since 2014, fighting between the Houthis and the American-backed, Saudi-led coalition supporting the government, as well as other factions like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, have taken more than 10,000 lives and displaced around 3 million people.

Yet despite the regular danger of bombs, landmines, snipers and armed drones, for most of those stuck in the country, hunger is the real threat.

United Nations reports outline a dire food situation for those caught amidst the fighting. Dwindling imports and skyrocketing food prices have made Yemen “one of the worst hunger crises in the world.” More than 17 million people—65 percent of Yemeni households—are food insecure, with over 7 million requiring emergency humanitarian assistance. More than half of households are buying food on credit.

Alhlme came to the Unites States in 1991 with his father, who left the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country to find better economic opportunity. Since then, Alhlme has worked in New York to provide for his relatives back in Yemen.

Today, Alhlme estimates that he sends between $400 and $500 to Yemen via Western Union and MoneyGram every two to four weeks. During a typical week, Alhlme claims that he works seven days in the bodega, often 12 to 13 hours a day. To mitigate New York’s high cost of living, he lives with his cousin, who doesn’t charge him any rent.

“I’m just working for them, to support them,” he said, referring to his family. “That’s it.”


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