By Marina de Regt “Aunt, if you know any way to migrate to Europe plz just tell me, I wanna run away from this world”. Said, the son of one of my Yemeni friends, sent me this Facebook message some time ago. I was shocked and first did not know what to answer him. While I got used to phonecalls from my friend Noura, who I support financially (see blog), the desperate situation in Yemen had never reached me through chat messages on Facebook.
I have known Said since he was a small boy, two or three years old, and saw him develop into a smart and cosmopolitan young man. He loved to speak English with me, and became a Facebook addict when smart phones made their entry in Yemen. He slept with his phone next to him, and made friends all around the world.
Said studied oil and gas engineering, and may have had a chance to find a job if the war had not broken out. Yet, his desire to come to Europe started long before the war; he was one of the first Yemeni youngsters that I met who expressed an interest in migration. While in the 1990s and 2000s very few Yemenis were interested in going abroad, Said was very keen to explore the world. The outbreak of the war has only increased his migration aspirations. In the summer of 2015 he accompanied his grandmother to Saudi Arabia because she needed medical care, and stayed in Jeddah; he found a job as a receptionist, is teaching English and does not intend to return to Yemen. But life in Saudi Arabia is not what he is looking for. He wants to migrate to Europe.
A few days after his FB message, I answered him that there are so many people coming to Europe nowadays that it has become very difficult to cross the borders. He wrote me that he knew that, but he had also heard that Germany opened its borders and did not want to give up: “if there is any chance, just tell me plz, I still believe that one day I’ll be there in Europe”.
Said is not the only young Yemeni who stays in touch with me via social media. Lina is the daughter of my friend Khadija, who lives in Rada’, a small tribal town in the east of the country. I have known Lina since she was born, and just like Said, saw her grow up in the past twenty years. I was amazed when I heard a few years ago that she decided to study dentistry. Lina turned into a very self-conscious and ambitious young woman, who lives by herself in a student dormitory in a neighbouring town. She sometimes contacts me through Whatsapp, asks me how I am doing and sends me pictures.
Today I received pictures of her sister Afrah, who is 18 years old and who recently got engaged with her cousin. Lina is older than Afrah and when I asked her if she herself has any marriage plans she answered: “My life is study, study and study. I want to become a great doctor.” I laughed, sent her a smiley and told her that she is like me; unmarried and devoted to her work. “Books are better than men” is her response.
Said and Lina are just two young and promising Yemenis who dream of the future – in or outside Yemen. There are millions of them, their lives being destroyed by the current war. While my heart burns for all the Yemenis that are affected by the war, I am mostly hurt by the fact that the future of Yemen’s new generations is broken into pieces. What is left of a country when young and aspiring people like Said and Lina do not get a chance to turn their dreams into reality?
While social media has made the world seem so much smaller, social realities cannot be changed. I can only hope that the war will soon be over; that Lina will indeed be able to become a doctor and that Said can come to Europe. But this may be wishful thinking…
Marina de Regt is assistant professor at the department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Vrije Universiteit (VU). She has written blogs on the situation in Yemen before, for example: Wat is er aan de hand in Jemen; Chaos in Jemen en de plicht van de antropoloog; and A grim new phase in Yemen’s migration history.