TWENTY-THREE Singaporeans in Yemen have been evacuated from the strife-torn country over the past two weeks, as the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) warns that the window of opportunity for exit is narrowing.
Working with the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (Muis), the MFA arranged for a coach to carry eight Singaporeans and a number of other nationals from Brunei, Cambodia, India, Malaysia and Vietnam from Yemen's Tarim eastwards to Salalah in Oman on Sunday.
A Crisis Response Team (CRT) was despatched to the Oman-Yemen border to receive the eight Singaporeans, who will be returning home later this week, according to an MFA spokesman on Monday.
Mr Richard Grosse, Consul-General of the Singapore Consulate-General in Muscat and leader of the CRT, said: "The Singaporeans told us that the journey was tiring - more than 20 hours on the road with several stops. My colleagues and I are relieved that they arrived safely in Salalah."
In a grim assessment of the insurgency in Yemen, Dr Albakri Ahmad, dean of the Muis Academy, who was also part of the CRT, noted: "We are also concerned that the situation may deteriorate which would make such efforts in future difficult."
MFA helped to evacuate another 15 Singaporeans from Yemen between April 2 and 9.
It is not known how many Singaporeans are still in the country, one of the poorest in the Middle East.
Violence intensified in Yemen late last month after a coalition of nine Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia, started carrying out air strikes against Houthi Shiite rebels who overran the capital, Sanaa, in September.
It is understood that among those assisted by MFA was a Singaporean family of four, with two children aged three years old and one month old who had no travel documents. The family was put onboard a convoy arranged by the Philippines to ferry its citizens from Sanaa to Saudi Arabia via Jizan last Thursday.
Assisted by Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, staff from the Singapore Consulate-General in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, issued the children with documents of identity at the Saudi border checkpoint. The family arrived in Jeddah last Friday and arrived in Singapore on Sunday.
According to sources, another Singaporean family which refused to leave Yemen earlier despite urgings by the MFA left the country last week after a treacherous 17-hour overland journey to Jeddah. They received help from Malaysia. The Singapore Consulate-General arranged for the family of six, including four children, to fly back to Singapore last Tuesday.
However, some Singaporeans have chosen to remain in Yemen.
"The window of opportunity for Singaporeans to leave Yemen safely is narrowing," said the MFA.
"The CRT is planning another overland evacuation to bring Singaporeans out of Tarim but this is contingent on the ground conditions which are increasingly difficult," it added, without elaborating when the operation will take place.
In view of the Saudi-led air strikes, naval blockade and street violence, the MFA also cautioned that "the rapidly deteriorating situation may well prevent MFA from mounting further evacuation operations".
Singaporeans in Yemen who have yet to contact the MFA or require assistance are urged to contact the MFA Duty Officer (24-hours) at: 6379 8800 / 8855 or firstname.lastname@example.org for advice and assistance.