The war in Yemen has created a historic humanitarian crisis, uprooting the lives of millions of Yemeni people, including 20-year-old VCU student Asma Raseem who is stuck in the U.S. after her program refused to send her back to the war-stricken country.
Raseem came to the U.S. from Yemen in 2014 with the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program. She was supposed to return to Yemen after completing her senior year at a university in Colorado, but had to stay in the United States after war broke out in her country in March 2015.
“My program had never had this happen before,” Raseem said. “They’re always able to send students back. So this was a unique situation where they didn’t know what to do. At first they told me I would be staying for one more semester until things calmed down, and then they would send me back.”
Because she was not able to return to Yemen, the YES program had Raseem repeat her senior year.
“Everyone graduated and I just had to do it again,” Raseem said. “And I had to explain to everyone why I was there again after I was supposed to have graduated. Then, I kind of got used to it, and I tried to make the best of it.”
She remained in Colorado for two years. Then, her program — along with the Community College Initiative Program — placed her at Northern Virginia Community College. Since then, she transferred to VCU, has been living in Virginia for three years and is in her fifth year as a student in the U.S.
However, after Raseem’s third year in the U.S., the academic program told her it could no longer give her money to live here.
“I had to pay for everything myself,” she said. “After my third year, I had no place to stay, and I couldn’t afford to live by myself, so thankfully my social host family took me in for a year and a half.”
Although Raseem said she has adjusted to life at VCU, she said she still misses her family.
“The hardest part now is definitely my family, and the fact that I haven’t seen them for four years,” Raseem said. “As years go by, I think it gets harder because everyone is growing up. My younger siblings are growing up, my parents are getting old. I have a niece that I don’t know.”
Raseem left behind her parents, four sisters and one brother in Yemen — as well as her entire extended family.
Four months ago, her family had to leave their city of Al Hudaydah because of the heavy bombing from the Saudi coalition. The movement has made it much more difficult for Raseem to contact her family regularly. But she has been able to communicate with her family occasionally when they have electricity, and she has to pay for the calls, Raseem said.
As an international studies major with a focus on international justice, she said she wants to work with nonprofits to help countries impacted by war, starting with Yemen.
“I always get the question of, ‘Do you want to go back?’” Raseem said. “I’m in the middle of my studies and the only reason my family is taking all of this is because it contributes to me having a better future. In Yemen, I won’t really have any future. I want to see my family, and I really don’t know when I’m going to see them, but it is what it is.”
Raseem said she wants to educate people in the U.S. about the conflicts in Yemen.
“I always feel sad that people don’t know about the war in my country, but I take it upon myself to educate people,” she said. “I try to stay positive because I know I’m not the only person in this situation. There are so many people that aren’t able to go to their countries, but I’ve been so lucky to find a good support system.”