Goldsmith Jagananda Das from Kolkata, who spent 14 months in Aden, the Yemeni sea-port, describes his last few weeks in the strife-torn country with one striking memory: “Wahaan to bachha baccha gun lekar ghoomta hai (Even children there roam the streets with weapons).”
Das is among 350 Indian nationals evacuated from Yemen, which is currently in the midst of a civil war between forces of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and Shia rebels. The Indians were evacuated from Aden on Monday by INS Sumitra, which sailed to Djibouti. From there, they were flown by two IAF aircraft — one which landed in Mumbai at 3.30 am Thursday and the other in Kochi at 2 am.
“The locals gave us sacks full of bullets and bombs. And asked us to shoot at the military,” Das told The Indian Express, admitting that he “threw bombs on roads” and even “fired bullets in the air”. “My room was near the airport where gunfire was always on. Our walls were full of bullet holes,” he said.
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Giving a vivid description of the civil war, Das said the streets had bullets strewn alongside and that guns were easily available. “Bullets were fired from every direction. I have seen people suffer bullet injuries and limbs being torn due to bombings. While neither the military nor the locals targeted Indians, the locals did ask us to join them,” Das said.
Das’s family — parents, wife, son and brother — lives in Kolkata and had been urging him for the past one month to return home.
While Das was relieved that he was home with his 29 fellow goldsmilths from Bengal, not all rescued people carry that thought.
Liju Jose from Kerala was staying at Gulf Cooperation Council Hall with several Indians who were hospital staffers. While all Indians working in his hospital, Sabar, were evacuated, his friends from nearby hospitals continue to remain stranded in Yemen.
“Their passports were not given by hospitals and their salaries were pending too. I packed at the last moment following an evacuation notice, could not even get all my stuff,” Jose said.
The sole earner for a family of five, Jose said he earned Rs 50,000 every month which he sent back to India. Even with no job in hand and no salary for March, he is adamant, “I will not go back. Horrible… it’s horrible there.”
His friend, Saiju Varghese (25), a ward boy, said he was told the navy vessel’s capacity was not very large and several of his friends were left behind. “For two days, our hospital was caught in the crossfire between locals and the military. We stayed at the Alburai hospital for two days without food or water. Over 300 people I know are still stuck there.”
Most of the evacuated people were attached with various hospitals in Yemen.
Commander Rahul Sinha, public relations officer (defence), said, “We need extensive coordination to evacuate Indians from Yemen. There is continuous fighting in the port city. The evacuation requires co-ordination between port authorities, police, government, navy and several stake holders.” The next phase of evacuation operation will commence following cue from the Ministry of External Affairs, he added. There are around 3,700 Indians in Yemen.
Afroz Younus, whose family was amongst those rescued, said, “Right now it is difficult for us to survive there. Last week my children stopped going to school.”
Looking at his three young daughters, Afroz’s husband Younus Khan said, “They are relaxed now. The sound of bombings had scared them the entire week.”
Younus has a rice-processing business in Yemen where they lived for six years. If given a chance, he would “love to go back”. “We are hoping the situation will improve in two months and we can return. We have not even got all our possessions,” he said. His family took the afternoon Netravati Express to return to their hometown in Karnataka.
In contrast, Sayed Wasim (37) from Muzafarpur in Bihar has decided to leave his belongings and his seven-year-old business back in Yemen for good. He arrived in India with four small bags and a laptop bag. His wife Atiya Wasim said they did not step out of the house for five days until the Indian Embassy approached them for immediate evacuation.
“We did not have proper food to eat. Stepping out of the house was a huge risk. I was involved in shipping business in Aden. But we have decided to not return. I will figure something out here, my family is in Bihar waiting for me,” he said.
Wasim was about to get his four-year-old daughter, Zahabiya, admitted in a school in Yemen when the war broke out in Aden. He said, “The situation is rapidly deteriorating in several parts of Yemen”.