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'For three days, we were starving'

By Shobha Warrier
April 08, 2015 12:35 IST
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'We had doctors from Syria who could not go home as the situation in their country is even worse. We are fortunate we have a safe home to come back to while they don't have that luxury.'

Image: Minister of State for External Affairs General V K Singh (retd) with Indian nationals in Djibouti. Photograph: PTI Photo

Tom Joseph, who worked as an x-ray technician in a hospital in Yemen, tells Shobha Warrier/Rediff.com from his home in Kuttanad, Alleppey, why he is never going back to that war-torn country despite it being difficult to find a similar paying job in India.

Tom, 32, had been working in Aden for seven years. His biggest achievement, he says, is that he could build a home for his parents and save some money. His pregnant wife works as a nurse in Saudi Arabia.

Within six months of working in Kerala as a trainee technician, I got this job in Yemen through an agent. I had heard a lot about Dubai, Sharjah, etc from my friends who work there and I had expected Yemen to be like Dubai.

But Yemen is not at all like the other 'Gulf' countries. Yet life was reasonably comfortable with a supermarket close by.

When I joined the hospital in Aden, I was the first Indian there, and the hospital took care of me well. Initially I was a bit bored as there were no Indians there; soon, quite a few Malayalis joined the hospital. I was happy to have friends with whom I could speak in my mother tongue.

As a trainee technician, I earned only Rs 3,500 here. In Yemen, I was offered Rs 35,000 to Rs 40,000 which you cannot imagine getting in India. That is why all of us want to go and work there. Other than the salary, we were given free accommodation and an allowance for food.

Image: The INS Mumbai in Djibouti with Indian and foreign nationals evacuated from Aden. Photograph: Syed Akbaruddin ‏@MEAIndia/Twitter

Though there were problems in Sana'a for the last two years, we started feeling a war-like situation in Aden only in the last two months.

Ever since the war intensified, our hospital was inundated with injured civilians and army personnel. I cannot describe how frightening the sights were; people without arms, legs and even eyes were brought to the hospital all the time.

From then on, all of us wanted to come back. It was just impossible to work in such an atmosphere. For three days, we had had no food. We were starving as there was no food at home and not a single shop was open.

Luckily, the hospital did not create any problems for us. They gave us our passports, but I did not get my experience certificate. They sent us in an ambulance to the port from where we could board the Indian ship.

Though there was firing on the way, we reached the port safely. That day, the Indian Navy ship, the INS Sumitra was given permission to dock for three hours. My friends told me that by the time the second naval ship arrived, they couldn't come to the port; so they had to ferry people in a boat.

As soon as we boarded the ship, we were given food. After three days of starving, we had good food. Never in my life have I found food so tasty. I must thank the Indian government for the way they took care of us; they provided us with food and beds to sleep.

At Djibouti, government officials including General V K Singh welcomed us. The general came into the ship to oversee the arrangements. I saw many people taking photographs with him.

After having food, at 10 am, we boarded the flight to Mumbai. Women and children took the direct flight to Kochi.

It was a relief coming home. What worries me is that there are many Indians trapped there. I am sure the government will evacuate all of them fast.

Image: Indians being ferried in small batches onto the Indian Navy ship, the INS Mumbai that was anchored off the coast amidst heavy shelling. Photograph: Twitter

 

I got messages from the Yemenis doctors at my hospital that the situation had worsened. What they hear is war will intensify with Saudi Arabia's involvement once India evacuates all Indians. All of them are very worried.

We also had doctors from Syria who could not go home as the situation in their country is even worse. One feels very sorry for them; we are fortunate we have a safe home to come back to while they don't even have that luxury.

The Syrian doctors asked me if we could arrange their safe passage at least to Djibouti on the Indian ship. I asked the Indian embassy officials, but they said they had permission only to evacuate Indians.

I have decided not to go back to Yemen though it will be impossible to get a job in India.

In Aden itself, there were 4,500 Indians, and with all the Indians back home, who will give jobs to all these people?

I may explore the possibility of finding a job in Saudi Arabia where my wife works. The only problem is I do not have the experience certificate from Yemen. So there is nothing to show that I worked in the Middle East for the last seven years.

I hope the visa entries in my passport will help me get a job somewhere. One thing I am sure about: I am not going back to Yemen.

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Shobha Warrier / Rediff.com in Thiruvananthapuram, for Rediff.com
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