Yemeni farmers 'humiliated' after Netherlands denies visas for coffee convention

Yemeni farmers 'humiliated' after Netherlands denies visas for coffee convention
War and militias did not stop Yemeni farmers from attending a coffee trade show - the Dutch embassy did.
4 min read
08 June, 2018
Yemen is considered the birthplace of the coffee drink [Getty]
A group of Yemeni farmers who risked their lives to apply for visas to attend a coffee trade show in Amsterdam say they have been "humiliated" after the Dutch embassy refused to grant them entry. 

Thousands of dollars and several months were spent preparing to send a delegation of farmers to the Netherlands to proudly represent Yemeni coffee at the World of Coffee international convention. It would have been the first time Yemeni coffee was showcased abroad in more than 500 years of history.

The group travelled for 20 hours through war-stricken Yemen from Sanaa to Aden, through 50 militia checkpoints, and then made the 3,000km journey to the Dutch embassy in the Jordan capital Amman just to apply for the visas.

But a month later, the group was told their applications had been rejected.

"It is clear that these farmers never had a chance. And that this was nothing more than an 'exercise' of perceived openness," a post on the Qima Coffee company's Facebook page said. "This decision has humiliated our farmers, humiliated our company, and humiliated Yemen and Yemenis at large." 

The farmers applied to spend 10 days in Amsterdam and provided as proof of their reason to visit an official invitation letter from the event organisers, a sponsorship letter from Yemen's largest specialty coffee exporter, a letter of endorsement from one of the world's foremost experts on specialty coffee, and an invite from the Yemeni embassy in The Hague.

"We tried to liaise with the Dutch embassy to Yemen for over 4 months," the post said. "We made it clear that our farmers were going to risk their lives to apply, and that if there is no chance of them getting the visas, then they should let us know beforehand and we will not attempt to make the trip.

"Their visa processing times were almost double the normal stated period. And after months of waiting, they received a standard letter with a rejection, accompanied by ludicrous, baseless reasons, one of which was that they did not prove evidence for the purpose of their visit."

In a video message, Faris Sheibani, CEO of Qima Coffee, said what was meant as a bold, positive message to overshadow the destruction in Yemen was crushed by "a politicised move driven by a strong anti-immigration environment".

"It has gone way too far," he said. "As a result of this anti-immigration drive, you are blocking the basic human rights of certain nations to participate in open exhibitions, to trade freely and fairly so they have a fair chance in this world."

He said any claims that farmers sought asylum in Holland were unjustified, with land registry documents proving their attachment to their precious land for hundreds of years.

Read more: How 'Port of Mokha' founder reclaimed coffee for Yemen's farmers

The Netherlands' connection to Yemen's coffee dates back to the 17th century when the Dutchman Pieter van den Broecke stole coffee beans from Mokha, the port city in Yemen, and planted them in the botanical gardens in Amsterdam, before transferring them to Dutch colonies of Indonesia and Suriname which began supplying coffee to Europe.

In a video posted on the Qima page, frustrated Yemenis accused the Dutch embassy of compounding an "economic war" on Yemen by refusing the farmers the opportunity to trade on a global stage.

Majid Alrumaim, Secretary General of Alruwad Cooperative, the largest coffee cooperative in Yemen, said: "All we want is that they let Yemenis help themselves. Let us build our own country... Their refusal to let us attend the exhibition is yet another war on Yemen's economy."

Ahmed Mahyoub, COO of Qima Coffee, added: "Yemen is the birthplace of the coffee drink and it is a recognised fact that the world got its coffee culture from Yemen. So on what basis do they take away our national right to represent our coffee?

"We believe sustainable support for Yemen is not through the distribution of aid or humanitarian assistance and we do not want such handouts. All we want is that they do not place obstacles in the way of our ambitions. Their actions are nothing less than an effective embargo on Yemeni trade."

Qima Coffee has urged the Dutch embassy to reconsider their attitude to Yemen, and asked followers to show their support online with the hashtag #FreeOurFarmers.

War broke out in Yemen in September 2014, when Houthi forces took over the Yemeni capital. Saudi Arabia and the UAE entered the war in 2015, intensifying the conflict and causing the deaths of tens of thousands of Yemenis as well as pushing the country to the brink of famine.