The City of Lackawanna’s population includes many of Yemeni origin. Many have loved ones still living in Yemen, enduring an ongoing civil war that, United Nations officials have warned, could spark one of the world’s worst famines in decades. WBFO spoke to a member of Lackawanna’s Yemeni-American community to learn more about their concerns, and whether a recent Senate vote has raised their hopes for relief.
WBFO met with Naef al Hajjhai, a Lackawanna resident, two days after the United States Senate voted to discharge from its Foreign Relations Committee a joint resolution which, if passed by the full Congress and signed by the president, would remove the U.S. from further military involvement in Yemen. An exception would be involving actions against Al Qaeda.
"As we know, it's been more than four years. It's obviously not working," he said about continuing military actions in Yemen, where many of his family still live. "Maybe we can try talking. There's a lot of differences in Yemen. I believe with the economy, if they are able to establish common ground and help the economy, get everybody to the table, I believe it would be more effective."
Armed hostilities began in 2015. Yemen's war pits the Houthis - Shiite militants who hold the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen - against an internationally-backed government that is heavily dependent on Saudi and Emirati forces and is allied with various local armed groups.
Initially a civil war, Yemen's conflict has grown into a regional conflict. Saudi-led warplanes using American weaponry have hit hospitals and markets, killing large numbers of civilians. Iran has supplied arms ranging from assault rifles to ballistic missiles to the Houthis, according to U.N. experts, Western nations and analysts. Tehran supports the Houthis but denies arming them.
More than 10,000 people have been killed in the war, with experts estimating a much higher toll. The fighting has displaced two-million others, spawned a cholera epidemic and pushed the country to the brink of famine, with emaciated children dying of malnutrition. United Nations officials have already warned that the famine could be the worst in the world in nearly a century.
Saudi Arabia is also conducting a blockade which has further choked an already very limited domestic economy. There's virtually no gross domestic product beyond limited agriculture. Most goods, al Hajjhai told WBFO, are imported and often times the prices may be triple what would be paid elsewhere.
Many Yemeni-Americans living in Lackawanna, al Hajjhai included, have loved ones still living in Yemen. He is among those who take significant portions of his paychecks from jobs worked here and is sending money back to Yemen, where he suggests it represents a primary means of survival for loved ones back there.
"Most of us, more than 90 percent of our families back home, their only source of income is our support from here," al Hajjhai said.
Al-Hajjhai and others in his community are pleased the Senate is moving forward but they also wonder if their decision to advance a joint resolution was more motivated by anti-Trump politics. They're also concerned about whether the White House will follow along. He noted President Trump’s indifference toward the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, allegedly ordered by the Crown Prince.