The “Escape From Yemen” story has become a tense subgenre of international journalism, as Americans left to fend for themselves by the Obama Administration seek flights to safety on foreign ships and planes. The spectacle of desperate Americans frantically looking for berths on Indian and Russian ships, while Team Obama spreads its hands and looks helpless, will not soon be forgotten.
We have already heard the hair-raising story of an American businessman crossing the Red Sea in a rented motorboat. McClatchy News collected more such stories by talking with the American ambassador to Djibouti, Tom Kelly, whose office has been overwhelmed with hundreds of U.S. citizens arriving from Yemen on foreign vessels.
These escapees took incredible risks crossing war-torn Yemen to reach port cities, where they did not always make it to safety on the first try. Kelly told McClatchy of one case where “some would-be evacuees were left behind at the port of Aden because they had been unable to climb up rope ladders to board an Indian navy frigate from smaller boats that had ferried them to the larger ship, which had been unable to dock because of fighting in the city.”
CNN collected some sharp criticism of the Obama Administration from Muna Mansour, a woman from Buffalo, New York, who was crammed into the cargo hold of a wooden ship with her family and two others, bound for Djibouti from the Yemeni port city of Aden. “I was there when the Indians picked up 200 of their people from the port. It was embarrassing,” she said. “We were just sitting there waiting for someone to come and say ‘OK where are the Americans, let’s pick them up.'”
Since the American embassy in Yemen had been shut down, Mansour wound up calling the U.S. embassy in Saudi Arabia. “I told them there were about 75 families here waiting at the port,” she recalled. “My family has been waiting there for two weeks. We ran out of money, we ran out of food.”
It was not the U.S. government that finally put Mansour and a handful of other refugees on that slow boat to Dijibouti – it was CNN. The news network chartered a ship and rescued 15 Americans, who counted themselves very lucky to make it on board. CNN can get people out of Yemen, but the Obama Administration can’t.
The State Department has been telling Americans to roll the dice and seek passage to Djibouti on foreign ships, while the embassy says it does not know who to contact to ensure such passage. Other Americans have been able to find seats on U.N. evacuation flights and Russian ships. Most of them end up passing through Djibouti – where, by all accounts, both the American embassy and host government have been doing an outstanding job of managing both American evacuees and Yemeni refugees coming across the border.
The refugee situation is only going to get worse, as the Saudi-led bombing campaign piles on top of factional battles, the Houthi insurgency against Yemen’s elected government, and al-Qaeda looking to take advantage of the situation by gobbling up territory.
“In a report Wednesday, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies predicted that as many a million people now in Yemen could be expected to flee and that their most likely path out is by sea to Djibouti or nearby Somalia in Africa,” McClatchy writes. “The U.N. refugee agency said this week it was making contingency plans to support 30,000 Yemeni refugees in Djibouti and 100,000 in Somalia.”