Few stories tie the local to the national and the international.
Though our Fresno Yemeni population does not seek the spotlight, nevertheless they are watching anxiously the events around them as they unfold upon their families here and loved ones abroad.
Yemeni-Americans moved into the Valley as early as the 1940s and 1950s. Finding work in the vineyards and orchards, nearby Delano became one of their first settlements. In recent decades, many Yemeni families have chosen Fresno as their home.
Now they watch helplessly at the dramatic events unfolding both nationally and internationally.
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In the U.S., the Trump administration’s goal of a “Muslim Ban” specifically targets Yemeni families. Since his inauguration, Trump has sought to slash the refugee program, ban all immigration and travelers from several majority Muslim countries, including Yemen, and impose new burdens on visa applicants as part of “extreme vetting initiatives.”
The Supreme Court in December ordered that the Muslim ban issued on Sept. 24 could temporarily go into effect while legal challenges continue in the U.S. Courts of Appeal.
The effects here in Fresno have been devastating for the families involved. Many woke up recently to learn that even spouses and children of American citizens are being denied entry into the country.
Families have shared that rejections were based on Presidential Proclamation 9645, the Muslim Ban, and thus cannot be appealed. This highly discriminatory act is unprecedented and is being interpreted as akin to a death warrant due to the current conditions in Yemen.
While The Bee has included coverage of the ongoing cholera outbreak and some readers have submitted letters to the editor, the context for the current civil war in Yemen has been largely missing from U.S. media stories.
Despite its rich history and fabled trade wealth, today’s Yemen is the poorest state in the Middle East. War has ravaged Yemen recently, but it is noteworthy to remember that it was a peaceful unification between South and North in 1990, a miraculous act in world history, that led to the formation of the country.
It was the “Arab Spring” in 2011 that set the events for the current civil war. As Yemeni masses rose to lodge their dissatisfaction with poverty, unemployment and widespread corruption of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, he ordered his troops to fire upon the crowds, leading to mass deaths. That ended his legitimacy.
A deal was struck with his Vice President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi being named his successor, ending Saleh’s two-decade rule.
The Houthis, belonging to the Zaydi Shia community, used the turmoil to increase their political power. The Zaydis do not belong to the same lineage followed by the Twelver-Shias of Iran, but constitute a separate branch of the Shia tradition, often called Fiver-Shias.
The Zaydis have long held power in the northern highlands of Yemen and much of their history celebrates their independence and wars with the Sunni Ottomans. The Houthis initial military victories were greeted with celebrations and promise.
In the ensuing three years of this civil war, weariness and exhaustion has descended upon the populace. Saleh, born into a Zaydi Shia family, had aligned himself with the Houthis, but recently sought to betray their side and was subsequently killed by his former allies in December. His death marks the close of a chapter in Yemen’s political history and makes the end of the conflict even more elusive.
As civil war has claimed nearly 9,000 lives in the past three years, the real fear for mass deaths is the Saudi-led blockade. Saudi Arabia has blockaded Yemen in hopes of defeating the Houthi movement. It has created a massive cholera epidemic and food shortage, with the United Nations warning that over 8 million people are “a step away from famine.”
While Pakistan’s parliament had the wisdom to avoid entering the conflict, Britain, Canada, and the U.S. have facilitated the manmade humanitarian disaster. The U.S. continues to provide intelligence, logistical support, aerial refueling, and increased arms sales to Saudi Arabia, exacerbating the situation.
These sales and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s chummy relationship with the Saudi prince, Mohammad bin Salman, has encouraged Saudi Arabia’s foolhardy proxy wars with Iran, who they believe support the Houthis.
The Saudi-led coalition’s tactics of a blockade is strangling 27 million people. Bipartisan legislation and debate has started in Congress, but the views of our Valley leaders remain unknown.
If we are to avert a humanitarian travesty then the U.S. must stop its support of Saudi adventurism in the Middle East and allow refugees some sanctuary. The hopes of many of our Yemeni-Fresnan families depend on it.
Deep Singh of Fresno is the executive director of the Jakara Movement, a youth development nonprofit and the largest Sikh volunteer organization in the United States. He holds advanced graduate degrees in Middle Eastern and South Asian history. Connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.