No harm will come to Yemeni fishermen if they stayed within their territorial waters.
By Samar Qaed,
Thirteen months ago, brothers Saeed and Abdu Antar woke up early one morning to go fishing. Their mother was expecting them home for lunch after their trip to the fish market to sell what they had caught, but she hasn’t seen her sons since.
Other fishermen have told her that her children are being detained in an Eritrean prison.
Abdu, 18, and Saeed, 15, are the only breadwinners in a family of 16, that includes 12 sisters, their mother and their paralyzed father. The family’s financial situation has been devastated they said, and they worry about the safety of Abdu and Saeed.
“Our situation gets worse day by day,” Um Saeed said.
There are 10 other families in the rural Al-Ma’sala area of Al-Jaraheen district of Hodeida that have family members in Eritrean cells, according to residents.
The Yemeni government says that 600 Yemeni fisherman are being detained in Marsa, Fatima and Qadam prisons in Eritrea. Relatives say they have no way of contacting their imprisoned family members to enquire about their safety.
“Each day I pray to God to return my sons home safely. I haven’t felt any happiness since they left,” Um Saeed said.
Ali Al-Dhobibi, a 33-year-old fishermain from Hais district and a father of a two-year-old son, died in Qadam prison two months after being arrested in territorial waters, fishermen returning from Eritrea told his family.
“I was shocked, all I could do was scream and cry. I can’t believe he died. I always tell myself that maybe someone else died—not my husband,” his wife said.
Al-Dhobaibi was also the only bread-winner in his family, which also included his parents and four siblings, as well as his wife and child.
“Released fishermen who were imprisoned with Ali told us he had died because of the hard labor he was forced to perform,” she said.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in the beginning of September the release of 1400 fishermen in Eritrea. The Fishery Cooperative Union says 1180 boats—the livelihoods of most fishermen—are still being held by Eritrean authorities.
Um Ahmed has been in black since she heard about her husband’s death. Each time she hears of returning fishermen from Ertirea, she rushes to meet them to confirm her husband’s death. All of them have confirmed, she said.
“My mother-in-law cried very much and lost her sight shortly after receiving the news,” she said.
Eritrea has accused Yemeni fishermen of violating their borders, but according to an agreement brokered by France in 1995, Eritreans and Yemenis are to share fishing waters.
Fishery union member Salem Alyan says the government neglects fishermen and the issue of imprisoned fishermen in Eritrea.
“We will resort to international institutions for solutions,” he said.
Fuad Mohammed’s son is also detained in Eritrea, and has been there for over four months. There is nothing he can do to help release him, he said.
The Coastal Forces Authority (CFA), established in 2002, says its capacities are limited.
Shuja Mahdi, the operations department manager in the CFA said the authority does not have much of a presence on the Red Sea, Aden Gulf or Arabian Sea.
“We only have 13 patrols to monitor regional waters. This makes us mostly ineffective,” Mahdi said.
Two months ago, the Yemeni government formed two committees—parliamentary and ministerial—to look into the issue. The committees were formed after the Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Abu Bakr Al-Qurbi went to Eritrea to discuss Yemeni-Eritrean ties.
Deputy Minister of Fisheries Abdulla Basanbl told the Yemen Times he is waiting to hear from the Eritreans to receive the two recently formed committees.
“The commander of the Eritrean marine forces is unwell, the diplomatic mission is awaiting his return,” he said.
“If the Eritrean government does not respond, we will deal with Eritrean fishermen the way they deal with ours,” Basanbl said.
Families have threatened to block the main road from Sana’a to Hodeida if more is not done.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry said the health conditions of detained Yemeni fishermen in Eritrean prisons was “good,” according to Abdulla Al-Faqeh, the head of the African Department at the ministry.
The Yemeni acting ambassador to Ertirea visited Yemenis at the prisons. The ambassador told the Yemen Times that the prisoners were in good health and that he did not see any evidence of torture.
“We totally deny that there has been any torture in the prisons,” said Mohammed Hamd, the Eritrean acting ambassador to Yemen. “These were simply rumors circulated in the press.”
“There will be a joint ministerial committee with representatives of the two countries that will work to develop bilateral relations between the countries by the end of this year,” Hamd said.
Three weeks ago, 70 families of detained fishermen traveled to Sana’a to protest in front of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi’s home, calling for the release of their relatives. According to the union, Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwa promised their relatives would soon be released, and investigations to look into the alleged deaths of five fishermen who were detained in Eritrean prisons.
Mohammed Al-Hassani was recently released from prison, but says his brother is still detained in Eritrea and has been there for a year.
He says conditions at the prison were poor. “We were like servants in Eritrea. We carried stones, dug holes and cleaned bathrooms,” he said. “It was not a prison, it was a sheep pen. There was no ceiling to protect us against the sun or the cold. We slept on thorns.”
Despite all Al-Hassani has been through, he says he will rent a boat and return to the sea to make a living. His boat remains in Eritrea. The relatives of the detained fishermen say they will escalate their protests if the government does not take action to release their relatives.
Al-Hassani says he will continue to fish and continue to protest until his brother is released.
“I hated returning home because I knew my nephew would ask me about his father,” he said.
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