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'Do the right thing': Trump administration urged to extend protection status for Yemenis

DHS has until 3 January to determine whether it will grant extension to Yemeni nationals living in US
About 1,250 Yemenis have been allowed to live in United States under temporary protected status (AFP/File photo)

Less than 48 hours before a deadline to extend temporary protected status (TPS) to Yemeni nationals living in the US expires, a rights group urged the Trump administration to "do the right thing" and issue an extension.

"It is imperative that Department of Homeland Security extends TPS status for Yemen," Abed Ayoub, national legal and policy director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), told Middle East Eye on Wednesday.

"TPS protects thousands of Yemeni nationals in the US, and provides them safe harbour so they are not forced to return to Yemen."

Ayoub submitted a request to DHS in November calling for Yemeni nationals' protection to be extended.

'The humanitarian situation in Yemen is dire, and taking away these protections is inhumane'

- Abed Ayoub, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

The designation of temporary protected status allows persons fleeing conflict, including war and natural disasters, to live and work in the US for a period of time.

About 1,250 Yemenis have been allowed to live in the US under TPS since Washington gave Yemen the designated status in 2015, according to the State Department.

An extension would not only extend the protected status of those individuals, but would also allow Yemenis who arrived in the US after 4 January 2017 to apply for protected status. As it stands, any Yemeni who arrived after that date is not eligible.

Two weeks ago, a group of Democratic House members led by Congresswoman Debbie Dingell sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting DHS chief Chad Wolf calling for the administration to grant the extension.

"Failing to extend TPS for Yemenis who have it and re-designate it for eligible individuals will put many men, women, children, and families in jeopardy and while undermining the security of the American homeland," the letter read.

'Cruel not to extend'

Philippe Nassif, Amnesty International's advocacy director for the MENA region, told MEE in a statement on Wednesday: “With conflict continuing to ravage Yemen, 11 million people facing famine, and war crimes committed by the Saudi-UAE led coalition using US-made weapons, Yemenis currently living under TPS face extreme danger should they be unable to remain in the US. The least the US can do is continue to protect Yemenis and keep TPS for those seeking refuge from the horrors of war."

In 2018, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) extended the protected status of Yemenis in the US to 3 March 2020. Now, the agency has until 3 January to determine whether it will grant another extension to Yemeni nationals.

In December, Human Rights Watch joined the chorus of groups urging the US to extend the TPS designation.

"Given the US role in the Yemen conflict, it would be particularly cruel not to extend TPS for Yemenis in the US," Andrea Prasow, acting Washington director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

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"Washington needs to make clear that it won't send people back to a country wracked by war and famine."

In 2015, Saudi Arabia along with the United Arab Emirates launched an air and ground campaign in Yemen against the country's Houthi rebels, who had overrun the capital Sanaa and ousted President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, brought the country to the verge of famine and caused outbreaks of preventable diseases.

A group of Yemen experts said in a report to the UN Security Council last year that "there is no safe place to hide from the fighting", and that some parties have committed violations that "likely to amount to war crimes".

For these reasons, Ayoub said it is of paramount importance for the US to continue granting protected status for Yemenis sheltering in the US.

"The humanitarian situation in Yemen is dire, and taking away these protections is inhumane. ADC calls on DHS to do the right thing and extend the status," Ayoub said.