Yemenis stuck in Malaysia may miss boat to US

The waiting game continues for Yemenis Sadeq Naji Farhan Alzaraf (left) and Abdualrahaman Mohammad Mohsen Zaid, who are stranded in Malaysia, where they were told to go to apply for their US visas.
The waiting game continues for Yemenis Sadeq Naji Farhan Alzaraf (left) and Abdualrahaman Mohammad Mohsen Zaid, who are stranded in Malaysia, where they were told to go to apply for their US visas.ST PHOTO: NADIRAH RODZI

Winners of US green card lottery left in limbo after travel ban on citizens of six countries

Mr Abdualrahaman Mohammad Mohsen Zaid thought he had a ticket to a brighter future when he won the United States government green card lottery last year.
 

The 26-year-old Yemeni student was one of the lucky ones randomly picked out of millions of applicants for residency in the US.

"At the time, I could almost feel a sense of accomplishment - I was finally getting the big break I had been waiting for. There is nothing that I want more than to drag my family out of poverty," said the eldest of five children born to a farmer and a housewife in Ibb, a city in south-western Yemen.

As luck would have it, though, he has not moved to the US but has instead been stuck for eight months in Malaysia.

Like Mr Abdualrahaman, hundreds of Yemeni winners of the green card lottery are believed to be stranded in Malaysia - they were told to go there to apply for their US visas as the US Embassy in Yemen closed in 2015 after a civil war broke out. Other lottery winners from Yemen, one of the Middle East's poorest countries, were told to go to other countries.

But the odds against these lottery winners ending up in America are growing by the day, as a result of a 90-day US travel ban on citizens of six countries, including Yemen, who have no links to the US.

The ban expires on Sept 27 - three days before their eligibility for the green cards expires, leading Yemen to urge the US government to take in these Yemenis, Reuters reported last week.

TAXING TIME

It is taxing me mentally, emotionally and financially. This (travel ban) has forced us (Yemeni lottery winners) to live on people's mercy here as we have exhausted all our funds. I'm now almost US$10,000 in debt.

MR ABDUALRAHAMAN MOHAMMAD MOHSEN ZAID, a Yemeni stuck in Malaysia.

When contacted, a spokesman for the US Embassy in Malaysia said: "The United States continues to process visa applications for nationals of the six affected countries as directed by the executive order and to the extent permitted by court decisions."

Yemenis stuck in Malaysia told The Sunday Times they had made many sacrifices for the sake of their American Dream, but this now hangs in the balance.

Mr Abdualrahaman, for example, had to drop out of his master's in business administration course at the University of Ibb. "It was a hard decision but I thought it would be worth it," he said in an interview at the semi-furnished apartment in Selangor he shares with five others.

With US$2,500 (S$3,400) in his pocket, he travelled to Seiyun, about 841km away from Ibb, as it is the only place in Yemen with an airport that still operates.

But some eight months after arriving in Malaysia, there is still no sign that his application would be approved. "It is taxing me mentally, emotionally and financially. This (travel ban) has forced us (Yemeni lottery winners) to live on people's mercy here as we have exhausted all our funds. I'm now almost US$10,000 in debt," he said.

The ban imposed by the Trump administration was blocked by the lower courts before being partially reinstated by the Supreme Court in June. It also affects citizens of Syria, Libya, Sudan, Iran and Somalia.

Reuters reported that the lottery attracts about 14 million applicants each year. In 2015, only about 0.3 per cent, or nearly 50,000, of the applicants scored a green card.

Yemeni farmer Sadeq Naji Farhan Alzaraf, 44, who came here with his wife and two teenage children, said: "To date, I have spent US$30,000 on food, travel and lodging since I arrived here with my family on April 29. That is US$22,000 more than the amount of money I had brought."

Luckily for the stranded Yemenis, the Yemeni community in Malaysia and the US has stepped in to help by channelling funds to them.

Said Mr Sadeq: "We are blessed with all the help we are getting from them. I'm not sure how we are supposed to survive if it weren't for our brothers and sisters. I did not think that the embassy would take such a long time to issue a visa."

As for Mr Abdualrahaman, help from his countrymen means that he does not have to survive just on plain rice and bread for now.

But both men stressed that their future remains daunting. Said Mr Abdualrahaman: "Will there be light at the end of the tunnel? I don't know. Questions of 'where do I go', 'what do I do', 'do I stay or do I go back' keep on being repeated in my head. But I want to remain hopeful."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 06, 2017, with the headline 'Yemenis stuck in Malaysia may miss boat to US'. Print Edition | Subscribe