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World

Activists Urge U.S. To Evacuate Yemeni-Americans From Yemen

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Civilians are caught in the middle as Yemen dissolves into war. Fighting has intensified in recent days as Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes to counter the Houthi rebels backed by Iran inside Yemen. The U.S. pulled diplomats and security personnel out of the country earlier this year. Now, Arab-American activists are pressing the United States to help evacuate American citizens still trapped in Yemen. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Yemeni analyst and blogger Sama’a Al Hamdani paints a harrowing picture of the conflict back in her country. Speaking at a forum on Capitol Hill, she urged Saudi Arabia to be more transparent in its target list and called on all factions fighting on the ground to agree to a humanitarian truce.

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SAMA'A AL HAMDANI: Unfortunately Yemenis now are stuck between fire coming in and between fire from within. A lot of the people have not had the chance to make plans to evacuate. There are no flights coming in or out of Yemen.

KELEMEN: And among those trapped, she says, are thousands of Yemeni-Americans. The State Department has no plans yet to evacuate them, and that angers Zahra Billoo in California with the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

ZAHRA BILLOO: Whereas China, Russia, Somalia, Ethiopia, Pakistan and India are all believed to have been evacuating their citizens even as recently as this past weekend.

KELEMEN: Her organization and other advocacy groups set up a website which has registered over 200 Yemeni-Americans who need help to leave. She says one California man was killed in a mortar attack last week, the first reported death of an American citizen since the conflict intensified. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf says the U.S. had been warning Americans for years not to go to Yemen. And since the U.S. shuttered its embassy in February, the State Department hasn't found another country that can help U.S. citizens.

MARIE HARF: We have sent out emergency messages to U.S. citizens remaining in Yemen to alert them to opportunities to leave the country.

KELEMEN: Those included, she says, a boat from Aden to Djibouti and one Indian Naval vessel that evacuated Indian citizens. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.