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|Singapore Ambassador to Yemen, Helmi Talib:|
“There was a feeling of willingness from the people of Singapore to help those affected by the storms in Mahra and Hadramout in any way they can, and that was largely expressed by the Arab community there. Now it has revolved into a national effort, which is actually led by the Arab Association. The government of Singapore has contributed $20,000 worth of medicine to the inflicted people.”
Hakim Almasmari (YEMEN POST STAFF)
Article Date: November 24, 2008
Yemen Post: Being a strong Arab leader in Singapore and having Yemeni roots, how can you evaluate the Arab involvement in helping build Singapore to what it is today?
Helmi Talib: The Arabs have contributed to Singapore from the beginning. Singapore started its history in 1818, and as early as 1824, you have the first contribution of an Arab family, which is the Junaid family. So within five year of the founding of Singapore, you have the Arab migration.
YP: Was the Arab migration mostly from Yemen?
HT: Largely from Yemen, Wadi Hadramout in specific.
YP: Do Yemenis have a strong voice in Singapore, political wise?
HT: Now we are 10,000 Singaporeans of Yemeni decent. Over time, they have become a strong voice in Singapore. There voice is that of a Singaporean, and enjoy all the rights of any Singaporean citizen. Currently, he have one parliamentarian who is of Yemeni decent, his name is Ahmad Maggad.
YP: While in your post as Ambassador of Singapore to Yemen, what major plans do you have to achieve?
HT: At the moment, we have quite a number of fronts that we will develop our relationship, one of which is the training assistance program for Yemen. The training is in various fields and to different ministries. Until now, 72 Yemenis have participated in programs and traveled to Singapore for training courses. The courses period range from 5 days to three weeks or even more at times, so that is one front to the relationship. The other front is the social and cultural aspect of the relationship and is more of a people-to-people relationship because of the long historical cultural links, and we now hope to strengthen those links.
YP: You are originally from Hadramout, and saw what happened their during the last disastrous storms that left thousands without shelter or medical attention, do you think the government did all it can to help those affected by the storms?
HT: I have not yet gone to Hadramout, but from the reports we read, I understand that the government did everything it can do, but I think the disaster was beyond the capacity of one government to handle, so aid was required.
YP: When asking family members in Hadramout about how things were, what do they tell you?
HT: I heard of the disaster on the same evening it occurred, and there was also immediate concern among the Arab community in Singapore. At that particular time, I was on my holiday but received many messages informing me of the disaster. There was a feeling of willingness from the people of Singapore to help those affected by the storms in Mahra and Hadramout in any way they can, and that was largely expressed by the Arab community there. Now it has revolved into a national effort, which is actually led by the Arab Association. The government of Singapore has contributed $20,000 worth of medicine to the inflicted people. There were fundraising events by the Arab Association in Singapore. They received support and were raising funds in mosques, especially during the Jummah prayer, where funds were gathered to help those who were harmed by the storms. Other organizations also helped us in raising funds. We were also helped by Mercy Relief, and they helped us in delivering the support to Yemen.
YP: Do you have any information on what went wrong in the relief efforts in Hadramout?
HT: The reports I heard from the team that is already there, is that they have not seen anything negative.
YP: Can you brief us on the economic cooperation between Singapore and Yemen?
HT: There is limited trade activity between Singapore and Yemen. Investing from and to both countries is currently fairly limited.
YP: Why is it limited?
HT: I think it really has to do with potential for opportunities. As opportunities arise, we hope matters improve. At one point of time, the Singaporean authority did make a significant investment in the port of Aden, and we remain at the lookout for any opportunities that might arise.
YP: In the educational sector, do you have any scholarships for Yemenis to study in Singapore?
HT: We do not have any scholarships in terms of university education, but we do offer the training services that I mentioned previously.
YP: Being originally from Yemen, and from what you see, what does Yemen need to focus on immediately to help it improve in the next coming years?
HT: The main concern is economic development and security. Their needs to be security if it wants economic development. These are two factors that needs to be developed. The second point is you cannot have economic development without significant investment in education, and in my view, they are all linked.
YP: Currently we have over 20,000 university graduates who are unemployed, how can you explain that?
HT: I am not an expert in this field, but I think that education has to be matched with the economic needs.
YP: How did Singapore end up where it is today?
HT: Singapore has always been a center of trade. Throughout its history it has been attracting foreign migration, investment, and trade. Therefore, it continued that road in assuring that they be the best they can in investing the right kind of investment. Another critical matter is that you should have a correct reading of the economic circumstances around you.
YP: Yemen has a problem in its importing and exporting. It imports 95% of its complete foreign trade and only exports 5%. Comparing to Singapore, how can Yemen improve this situation?
HT: The circumstances of both countries are not the same. Singapore trade is quite large, and the positions of both countries are different. To be able to increase the levels of exports, you should produce goods and services that other countries need.
YP: Do you have final comments?HT: concerning the relief efforts, I would like to stress that in our efforts to help those affected; we have had quite significance assistance starting with the Yemeni Ambassador in Singapore, to other officials in the country. Until today, we have not encountered any problems in delivering the relief to Sayoun.