The United States has asked India to help evacuate Americans attempting to flee the spiraling violence in Yemen, and New Delhi confirmed that 26 countries have now requested its assistance in getting citizens out of the strife-torn nation.
Foreigners living in Yemen have been scrambling to coordinate passage out ever since fighting between the country’s Houthi rebels and forces loyal to the ousted president escalated in February. Most embassies have closed their doors and service from the country’s major airports has been largely cut off, leaving an unknown number stranded.
With Washington among the governments not evacuating its citizens, India appears to be stepping in to help. After the Indian Ministry’s chief Sushma Swaraj confirmed Monday that 23 countries had requested India’s assistance spokesman Syed Akbaruddin tweeted out an updated list of 26 countries.
“Requests for Indian assistance in evacuation from Yemen keeps growing,” Akbaruddin said, attaching a photo of a document that listed the U.S., France, Germany, Turkey, Iraq and 21 other countries.
The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital — which closed its doors in mid-February and evacuated staff due to the “deteriorating security situation” — confirmed the request.
“The Indian government has offered to assist U.S. citizens who want to depart Yemen for Djibouti. This potentially includes flights out of Sanaa and ships from Aden,” the embassy said in an online message. “There are no plans for a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation of U.S. citizens at this time.”
The message also noted that the International Organization for Migration is planning a flight to Djibouti sometime this week.
It isn't clear why the U.S., which is backing (and had forewarning of) the current Saudi Arabia-led military intervention in Yemen, is not offering to evacuate its nationals from the country. As India's Economic Times noted, the U.S. has a sizeable naval presence in the region.
Pressure on Washington to act increased last week with news of the first American casualty of the war in Yemen. Jamal al-Labani, a 40-year-old California native and father of four, was struck by shelling as he was leaving a mosque in the southern port city of Aden, his family told Al Jazeera.
India has already removed over 3,000 of its citizens from Yemen, mostly by way of flights through nearby Djibouti. It plans to complete a full evacuation in a matter of days.
The conflict in Yemen began as an internal power struggle but has since widened. It has drawn in neighboring Saudi Arabia, the regional Sunni power which has stepped in against the Shia Houthi rebels that ousted Saudi-backed President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi late last month.
The bloodshed is also seen within the context of the rivalry between the Shia government in Tehran and the Sunni monarchy in Riyadh. The Houthis’ opponents, who include Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, accuse the group of being backed by Iran, a charge they deny.
Forces loyal to Hadi's predecessor, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled Yemen for three decades until protests ousted him in 2011, are also fighting alongside the Houthis for control of the country.
More than 100,000 people have been displaced by the conflict, the United Nations said last week. Civilians have paid a heavy toll, with at least 500 killed so far.
Aid workers have also had difficulty getting access to the country. The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) said that one passenger plane carrying staff was able to land in Sanaa on Monday, but the organization has not yet been able to find a cargo plane operator to fly supplies into the country.
With wire services