The New Arab Logo

Breaking News
Escaping Yemen, escaping death Open in fullscreen

Nina Aqlan

Escaping Yemen, escaping death

"People speak of the North and South like we're not bleeding the same" [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 5 May, 2015

Share this page:
  • 0

  • twitter
Blog: Nina Aqlan tells the story of her flight from Yemen, and the pain of witnessing her country's descent into turmoil.


Yemen, Sanaa, Aden,

April 28. Less than half an hour after the plane took off, the Saudis bomb the airport with seven missiles to stop a commercial Iranian plane from landing. Not only did we escape a war, we escaped death. It wasn't yet our time.

But, to me, every minute as we fly is like a countdown to death - maybe the plane will get hit and explode or, as we hit heavy turbulence, maybe now the plane will crash. So many different scenarios cross my mind. It all happened so fast...

As I write, it has been 36 days since March 28, the first day of the war.

As each day passed I heard defeat and hopelessness more noticeably in people's voices. I saw them sleepless and afraid. I felt completely useless - I couldn't make it go away for them. I feared and dreaded the thought that there was worse still to come.

While I had already accepted that it was my new reality and found ways to cope with it, I couldn't accept such a reality for my elderly parents. Not for my father, who can barely walk, or my mother, who was watching our home - and everything else - fall apart around her.

The sounds of explosions still ring in my ears; the slightest bang makes my heart jump, and every so often I look around at my new surroundings and I don't really understand. I had a life there, my home is still there. I had plans. I left family and friends behind. I feel guilt and confusion.

     I left family and friends behind. I feel guilt and confusion.

Hassle on the apron

After take-off from Sanaa our next stop was Saudi Arabia's Bisha Airport. A new rule - our plane had to be checked by security before being cleared to continue. We were asked to take with us our carry-on bags, and were separated into two groups, men and women.

I couldn't believe my eyes, amid the desert that surrounded us, the military men and the scorching heat of the sun. We stood there, outside the plane, waiting on the bare ground of the airport.

I had the urge to take pictures. I took my phone out to check the time first. In no time, a woman called me out and commanded I give her my phone. I looked at her, all dressed in black, not even her eyes showed. She let me keep my phone, then yelled: "You're not allowed to take pictures."

A few minutes later, they called one of the women and confiscated her phone to look through. We were in a military airport.

Our baggage was all taken out of the plane and laid on the ground. The back door to a black SUV that was parked near us opened and one of the Saudi military officers pulled on the leash of a German Shepherd, leading him out to sniff our bags.

The majority of us, women and children, stood there. Watching. The sounds of children crying from the heat, the uncertainty and worry. I was approached several times by military to hand over my carry-on bag. I refused. Some three hours later we took off to Sudan.

It was obvious the only point in delaying us like that was to humiliate us.


Yemenis are now stranded, displaced, starved, killed, mentally sabotaged, humiliated, and terrorised. 

They endure inhumane conditions. No access to fuel, water, poor or non-existent medical services, official warnings that telecoms maybe suspended due to a lack of fuel, unable to leave, major airports completely destroyed, unable even to receive money transfers from abroad, no foreign hard currency except for Saudi Riyals, Yemenis stuck abroad not able to return - and not allowed into other Arab countries without a visa.

     We've been divided. People speak of the North and South like we're not bleeding the same.

We've been divided. People speak of the North and South like we're not bleeding the same.

While that may be literally true, we've both suffered tragedy. Street fighting hasn't broken out in Sanaa like it has in Aden or Taiz, but that's no reason to patronise.

We all have families and friends in and between the North and South. This isn't a competition of misery.

The journey's next step

April 30 - The quest for safety continues through Egypt. I watch my parents walk away, through the passport control desk in Cairo International Airport.

The sadness and confusion in my father's eyes as I try to explain that I don't have a visa to enter Egypt. That I can't go in with them.

I walk to my gate, sit across from it and bury my face in my hands. I can't stop my tears. I cry myself all the way onto the plane.

I don't want to leave like this.

My heart and mind are still in Yemen. I hurt even more now, it's not any easier from the outside.

The New ArabComments

Most Popular

Most Popular

    Read More