As Yemen has the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, Yemeni Americans are also dealing with being harassed, bribed and bullied when they try to visit their native country.
These criminal actions take place at Cairo Airport in Egypt, as there is no direct flight to Yemen from the USA, so everyone must stop in Cairo.
Yahay Obeid, the outreach coordinator for the Bronx Muslim Center, said these issues have occurred for a while, but have gotten worse recently.
“It looks like Yemeni Americans are being targeted,” he said. “They know they’re coming from America, so they say it’s against the law for them to carry money through Cairo.”
According to Obeid, the security at the airport takes things like honey and coffee from people’s suitcases as there is a known black market for both items in Egypt.
In fact, some Yemeni Americans have even been followed to their hotels and had their rooms broken into. While Obeid hasn’t experienced this personally, his brother had a suitcase containing seven cell phones as gifts for family members stolen when he was at the Cairo Airport in 2019.
Some of the victims are from Little Yemen and while they will still travel, Obeid said many are scared and now take less belongings.
“It’s a subject no one wants to touch,” he said. “It’s been tough for the community. It’s a concern on everyone’s mind. They’re going to expect the worst.”
Obeid explained that often they put Yemeni Americans in a small little terminal and take their passports for three hours. Then these employees ask for money so the travelers can move on.
It’s essentially bribery and no one is doing anything about it.
Being there is a U.S. Embassy in Cairo, but the airport is controlled by the Egyptian government, it is a sticky situation. Therefore, Obeid reached out to Congressman Ritchie Torres, who took action.
On March 23, Torres sent a letter to the U.S. Ambassador in Egypt Jonathan Cohen on behalf of the Yemeni American community in his district with concerns about the treatment of
Yemeni Americans passengers to and from the United States through Cairo Airport.
Torres understands the war in Yemen has made things difficult, but that does not excuse Yemeni Americans being bullied, harassed or bribed.
“The Yemeni American community is very grateful to the Egyptian government and the Egyptian
citizens for welcoming Yemenis during their nation’s difficult time,” Torres said in the letter. “The war in Yemen has been devastating and has caused many hardships to the Yemeni people, including limiting Yemeni Americans’ travel options to and from Yemen. Yet, as Cairo Airport is the main transit point for Yemeni Americans to and from Yemen, it concerns me that the Egyptian people are taking
advantage of vulnerable Yemeni Americans.
I am requesting that the United States Embassy communicate with Egyptian authorities at Cairo
Airport to investigate this matter and find ways to make the journey through Cairo Airport safer
and less stressful. I appreciate your attention to this matter.”