‘We take turns to stay awake at night, huddle together in a room’, says an Indian expat

Rattled by night-long airstrikes, Indian expats in Yemen fear for their lives, want to return home.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: March 29, 2015 4:19 am
A photo taken by an Indian expat of an airstrike in Sanaa. A photo taken by an Indian expat of an airstrike in Sanaa.

Warplanes streaking across the sky, the pounding of anti-aircraft guns and gun-waving Houthi rebels -— Indian expatriates in Yemen’s capital Sanaa and its suburbs say they are in the middle of the worst nightmare of their lives.

There are about 3,500 Indians, most of them nurses, living in Yemen, according to the External Affairs Ministry. And, hundreds of them are virtually under siege after the rebels took control of Sanaa, the largest city in Yemen, weeks ago.

Now, with a coalition of Gulf countries having launched airstrikes on the city to drive the Houthis out, Indians “trapped” in the country have been asked by Embassy officials to prepare for evacuation — the first batch of 80 are being moved to Djibouti on their way to India.

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Ragesh Velayudan, a nurse at a private hospital in Sanaa, told The Sunday Express: “Several civilians have already packed up to flee to Saudi Arabia. The night-long airstrikes and gunfire over the last three nights have shattered the confidence of the Indians. Even those who have been here for years do not want to risk their lives.”

Velayudan added that the rebels have not attacked any hospitals in the city, where at least 500 nurses from Kerala are employed. “However, several buildings near the hospitals had collapsed in the attacks,” he said.

Ancy Mohan, from Muvattupuzha in Ernakulam, said their government hospital — at Al Mathna, 50 km away from Sanaa — has fallen into rebel hands two months ago. “Till a few days, we had no problems. But after latest strikes in Sanaa, doctors who used to come from there have stopped reporting for duty at our 50-bed hospital.”

Ancy said the hospital now housed “three or four patients, nine of us nurses from Kerala, a Yemeni nurse staying near the hospital, a duty doctor from Russia and gun-carrying rebels”.

Another nurse from the hospital, Josila Jose, from Kottayam, said they had not slept for the last four days, ever since the airstrikes began. “We take turns to stay awake at night and huddle together in a room. The rebels have said that they would not attack us, and that we are safe. But when fighter planes are flying over us, and the city is burning, how can we believe them? Today morning, they came and asked us to report for duty and we obeyed,” she said.

Ancy and Josila said their salaries are paid every three months and the next payment is due in April-end. “A few of us have completed our two-year contracts and were planning to return home. Others would have completed their two-year terms in April. Now, all of us want to get back soon. Hopefully, we will get at least our certificates back,” Josila said.

Charles Lopez, another nurse in Sanaa who hails from Panthalam in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district, said the rebels had taken control of the hills around the capital, and that people in the city could “easily become victims of the battle”.

“The war-like situation began four days back,” he said. “The airstrikes usually begin in the evening after the namaz. In the last two days, the airstrikes and gunfire continued throughout the night. There are no warning sirens. Civilians have no option to run for cover and switch off the lights in their residences. As the hostels are attached to the hospitals, the nurses are safe. But when buildings shake in the impact of the attacks, everyone becomes afraid.”

The nurses buy their provisions during daytime, when there are no strikes, said Velayudan, a native of Nenmara in Palakkad. “The Indian Embassy had given us hints about a possible bout of civil war. So many of the Indians had stocked provisions. Water is being supplied at many places in trucks.

But the power supply is erratic and we have heard that the supply of gas may be affected any time,” said Velayudan. “If the fighting continues for a couple of days with the same intensity, the city of Sanaa will be razed to the ground,” he added.

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