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StuckInYemen.com Website Offers To Help Americans Trapped In Yemen

Smoke and flames reportedly from Shiite Houthi rebels camps rise over part of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, on Monday. Fierce fighting has left people trapped, including U.S. citizens.

Updated at 2:40 p.m. ET.

Several Arab-American groups have launched a website to help U.S. citizens trapped by the fighting in Yemen.

StuckInYemen.com was created after the advocacy groups began hearing from mostly Yemeni-American citizens who reportedly were being told by the U.S. State Department that there are currently no evacuation plans for Yemen. The website addresses Yemeni-Americans, in particular, but is open to all U.S. citizens.

"We're hearing from people that are stuck all over the country," says Zahra Billoo, executive director of Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Within the past week, she says, there have been more than 200 entries on the website from people seeking help.

"We imagine there are many more people who don't know about it or haven't Internet access to be able to enter their information," Billoo says.

Billoo says CAIR, which is working with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, wanted to be in better touch with those still in Yemen to help advocate for them. But in order to do that, she says they needed a better sense of how many people were stuck and where they were.

That's where the StuckInYemen website comes in. There's an online form where people can put down all the pertinent information, including addresses and contacts in both Yemen and the U.S.

The site's homepage features the message: "All Americans are entitled to protection from their government." It goes on to say that the U.S. government has an obligation to protect their citizens in foreign countries, and that it's one of the fundamental reasons why there are consulates and embassies.

"Unfortunately, the United States government and embassies abandoned Yemeni Americans in February 2015," the site says.

The U.S. State Department suspended its operations in Yemen on Feb. 11. Currently, there are no plans to evacuate U.S. citizens from Yemen, according to the State Department website. It states:

"There are no plans for a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation of U.S. citizens at this time. We encourage all U.S. citizens to shelter in a secure location until they are able to depart safely. U.S. citizens wishing to depart should do so via commercial transportation options when they become available. Keep vital records and travel documents close at hand; U.S. citizens should be prepared to depart at a moment's notice. The airports are currently closed, but may open unexpectedly; other unforeseen opportunities to depart may also suddenly arise."

State Department spokesperson Marie Harf says American citizens should sign up on the department's website, and that they will be alerted when there is an opportunity to leave Yemen.

Harf says the State Department sent out an emergency alert on Sunday that a boat was crossing from Aden to the nation of Djibouti. Today, another emergency alert said an Indian naval ship was boarding passengers. Harf did not know how many, if any, U.S. citizens took advantage of the "maritime opportunities."

There are U.S. ships in the region, but Harf said there are "no plans for U.S. assets to be used" for evacuations.

Billoo says the advocacy groups can't understand why the U.S. isn't assisting its nationals when other countries are. She notes that "China, Russia, Somalia, Ethiopia, Pakistan, India are all believed to have been evacuating their citizens even as recently as this past weekend."

Last week, Billoo says, the Arab-American advocacy groups began hearing from the family of Jamal al-Labani, a 40-year-old resident of Oakland, Calif., who had gone to visit his wife and young child in Yemen. He was killed Thursday in the unfolding violence in the southern port city of Aden.

He is believed to be the first U.S. citizen killed in the current violence in Yemen, according to CNN.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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