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Expats stranded, cloud on trade: How Yemen crisis may affect India

New Delhi has been focussed on the immediate problem of evacuating more than 4,000 of its nationals from Yemen but the civil war in the Arab country could have grave long-term trade and economic implications for India.

ht view Updated: Mar 31, 2015 21:30 IST
Rezaul H Laskar
People-sit-on-ammunition-boxes-they-took-from-army-depots-in-Yemen-s-southern-port-city-of-Aden-as-Saudi-led-airstrikes-continued-againsty-Houthi-militia-Reuters-Photo
People-sit-on-ammunition-boxes-they-took-from-army-depots-in-Yemen-s-southern-port-city-of-Aden-as-Saudi-led-airstrikes-continued-againsty-Houthi-militia-Reuters-Photo

New Delhi has been focussed on the immediate problem of evacuating more than 4,000 of its nationals from Yemen but the civil war in the Arab country could have grave long-term trade and economic implications for India.

Naval ships and heavy-lift C-17 Globemaster aircraft have been mobilised and junior foreign minister VK Singh has been sent to Djibouti to oversee the evacuation of Indians, a majority of them nurses and paramedical staff from Kerala.

More worrying than the loss of remittances, experts say, are consequences of the turmoil in Yemen, where Shia Houthi rebels and supporters of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh are fighting against forces loyal to President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Not many are aware that Yemen is home to some 80,000 to 1,00,000 people of Indian origin, descendents of communities from Gujarat and Kerala who settled there in the 19th century when the region was ruled by the British. These people are now Yemeni citizens.

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A tank flying the flag of the Southern separatist movement is seen in the southern Yemeni city of Aden. (AFP Photo)



One of India’s most important shipping routes passes through the Gulf of Aden, accounting for imports of $50 billion and exports of $60 billion every year, according to the shipping ministry.

The route is so important that the Indian Navy has maintained a presence in the Gulf of Aden since 2008 to protect Indian vessels and the Indian crew of ships flying the flags of other countries.

“The situation in Yemen has the potential of sending one more Arab country hurtling into chaos. This could mean one less country supporting us at the UN and less trade and interaction with the region,” said Professor AK Pasha of the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Pasha, who specialises in West Asia, said further unrest in Yemen could impact the movement of shipping given that country’s strategic location abutting the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

There are also reports that the people of Indian origin are living in fear because of the turmoil and fighting, Pasha told Hindustan Times. An escalation of the conflict in Yemen could also lead to unrest in southern Omani province of Dhofar as some of the tribes involved in the fighting straddle the border between the two countries, he said.

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Pro-Houthi students demonstrate against the Saudi-led air strikes on Yemen at the Sanaa University campus. (Reuters)



India and Yemen have deep rooted trade relations and people-to-people contact going back several centuries. When the region, then known as Aden, became part of the British empire in 1839, it was governed by the Bombay Presidency. A garrison of 2,000 Indian soldiers was deployed in Aden as part of efforts to guard the southern entrance to the Red Sea.

Indian nationals, including Hindus, Muslims and Parsis, have lived in Aden since the mid-1880s. Many traders became Yemeni citizens and Dhirubhai Ambani, the founder of the Reliance Group, began his business career in Aden.

When the British withdrew from Aden in 1967, many Indians returned to India but a large number of members of the Bohra, Khoja and Kachchi communities stayed behind and became Yemeni citizens.

An estimated 1,00,000 people of Indian origin are concentrated in southern Yemen around Aden, Mukalla, Shihr, Lahaj, Mokha and Hodeidah, according to the Indian Embassy.