Yemen’s unemployed turn to the black market

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Article Summary
Given Yemen’s status as the poorest country in the Gulf region and the one with the highest unemployment rate, the country’s youth are drawn into the black market trade.

Under the burning sun, Mohammad, 16, sits on the main street of Harad city on the Yemeni-Saudi border. Next to him there are plastic boxes filled with gas for sale. It is true that the severe fuel crisis in the country led to the shutdown of hotels and industrial and medical institutions. Nevertheless, it created a black market that is coming to the aid of some unemployed youth and children who sell gas to support their families. Yemen is the poorest country in the region with the highest unemployment rate.

During the same time last year, the Harad region was packed with thousands of Africans who gathered in this small city to be able to cross to the oil-rich Saudi Arabia. Now, the city seems almost deserted of Africans after despair pushed many of them to return to their countries or move to big cities like Sanaa.

This is how selling fuel in the streets and markets became the most prevalent phenomenon, not only in this small city, but throughout different regions of the country. A person traveling from Sanaa to Hodeidah or through the international road connecting Yemen to Saudi Arabia, can notice the plastic and metallic containers filled with fuel on both sides of the road, which are sold to passersby for prices that exceed the original price. In some cities like Hodeidah, groups of young men were charging each of the cars rushing to gas stations to get fuel sums of money amounting to 200 riyals at least (about $1). Meanwhile, the black market merchants are cheating customers by mixing fuel with water.

Increasing criticism against the interim government that was formed in November 2011 has surfaced, while disputes have become more intense among the ruling elite whose parties are experiencing a hot and cold war. As a result, the security chaos and economic deterioration have not budged.

It seems that the return of the army to the forefront in some Arab Spring countries such as Egypt and Libya and the emergence of a wave countering Islamists have reignited the hopes of some forces aspiring to take over the rule and steer the dreams of the Yemeni youth who have taken to the streets to demand change.

A report of the International Labor Organization (ILO) that was recently issued expected unemployment in the Arab region to remain among the highest globally. It says 30% of young people eligible to work are unemployed, while this percentage reaches 45% among young women eligible to work.

Border cities like Harad are still considered a favorite destination for many young people who dream of crossing the border to Saudi Arabia in search of a job opportunity, while government employees rush to work in these cities for the bribes that border workers are believed to get.

According to official statistics, there are about 7 million Yemeni people abroad, including permanent and temporary immigrants. They constitute more than 28% of the total number of citizens and 40% of the total workforce.

On both the Arab and global levels, Saudi Arabia attracts Yemeni immigrants the most. There are some 1,317,000 [Yemeni] immigrants in Saudi Arabia, including 315 businessmen and 144 educated people. The rest work in unskilled labor.

Although more than two years have passed since the election of a consensual president for the country, the economic and security problems are still exacerbated. About two weeks ago, the Yemeni parliament witnessed a stormy session during its discussion of a request to withdraw confidence from the government, in light of its failure to implement essential reforms. These include attracting foreign investments and convincing Yemeni investors to return to their country. According to official information, the Yemeni immigrant capital is estimated at $33 billion, while it is only $5 billion for the Yemeni living in the country. According to studies that tackled the investment climate in Yemen, the deterioration of infrastructure services like electricity, spread of corruption, lack of security, corrupt judiciary and the land dispute are among the main reasons behind the emigration of foreign and Yemeni capital alike.

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Found in: youth, yemeni economy, yemen youth, unemployment, economy
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