Sunday, March 6, 2011

US Embassy Yemen on Authorized Voluntary Departure

On March 06, 2011, the State Department issued a new travel warning for Yemen. It also announced the authorized voluntary departure of  family members of U.S. Embassy staff and non-essential personnel from Sana'a.

US Embassy Yemen was a partially unaccompanied post with adults only family members and minors under five in 2009.  Last year, US Embassy Yemen became an adults only EFM post. This means adult family members (21 and older) are permitted to accompany an embassy employee to post with approval from the "M" bureau on a case by case basis.  As I understand it, the approval usually depends on whether or not the adult family member is able to secure a job in the mission.

Excerpts from the announcement: 
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the high security threat level in Yemen due to terrorist activities and civil unrest.  The Department urges U.S. citizens not to travel to Yemen.  U.S. citizens currently in Yemen should consider departing Yemen.  The Department of State has authorized the voluntary departure from Yemen of the family members of U.S. Embassy staff and non-essential personnel.  This replaces the Travel Warning for Yemen issued October 15, 2010.

Should a crisis occur, evacuation options from Yemen would be extremely limited due to the lack of infrastructure, geographic constraints, and other security concerns outlined below.  The U.S. Embassy's ability to assist U.S. citizens in the event of a crisis in Yemen is very limited.  In the event of an evacuation, U.S. law requires the Department of State to bill evacuees for U.S.-government arranged transportation. U.S. citizens remaining in Yemen despite this Travel Warning should make their own contingency emergency plans, enroll their presence in Yemen through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at, and provide their current contact information and next-of-kin or emergency contact information.

The security threat level in Yemen is extremely high due to terrorist activities and civil unrest.  Piracy in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean is also a security threat to maritime activities in the region.  Terrorist organizations continue to be active in Yemen, including Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  The U.S. government remains concerned about possible attacks against U.S. citizens, facilities, businesses, and perceived U.S. and Western interests.  There is ongoing civil unrest throughout the country and large-scale protests in major cities. See our International Maritime Piracy Fact Sheet at  
Read the whole thing here.

According to publicly available material from the OIG site, the US Embassy Yemen has approximately 170 direct hire American employees. More than half of those employees belong to other agencies. An inspection report from last year notes that "the Ambassador, DCM, OMC commander, and the leaders of the political/economic section are due to rotate before the end of 2010."  So then, a good number of senior embassy officials currently in Yemen have been at post for less than six months. That includes Ambassador Gerald M. Feierstein (previously DCM at US Embassy Pakistan) who arrived at post in September 2010. I should note that two years previously, a deadly assault on the chancery in September 2008 killed 11 people and disrupted operations at the embassy for months. 

The OIG report also provides an insight on the challenges of a potential evacuation of American citizens from Yemen:
Providing American citizen services in Yemen is exceedingly difficult. As a consequence of generations of immigration to the United States, and the subsequent return of thousands of U.S. citizens, there is a large (at least 55,000) U.S.-Yemeni community. Many of the U.S. citizens have no connection to the United States except their U.S. passport. Indeed, a large number of the Yemeni-Americans reflect local standards of illiteracy and lack of education. This situation, coupled with the pervasive fraud and a complete lack of reliable civil documents, creates a huge challenge for routine passport and citizenship transactions. Because of these challenges, the embassy uses deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing extensively to determine blood relationships.

One complication of the illiteracy and ignorance is that consular clients usually arrive at the embassy missing the required documents. Another complication is that the applicants often cannot show that the U.S. citizen parent has remained in the United States for the requisite five years in order to transmit citizenship to their children. Finally, fraud is a huge issue, as U.S. citizenship is highly valued in Yemen. Fathers can receive up to $50,000 (45 times the per capita Gross Domestic Product) as a bride price for a U.S.-citizen daughter. As a result, parents often claim children as their own who are in fact from other families, in order to fraudulently document the children as U.S. citizens and use them as a potential source of income.
It seems to me that the large number of dual-nationals in both Egypt and Libya did not materialize in the most recent evacuations. If I have my numbers right, the total evacuees for those two countries did not go beyond 3,000. Yemenese-Americans in Yemen may follow the same pattern and opt to shelter in country. But we won't know that for sure until the evac actually happens.        

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