Persecuted Yemeni Jews to be given sanctuary in Britain

Al-Qa'ida-inspired attacks prompt UK to offer refugee status to those with British links

Britain is on the verge of signing a secret deal to allow a small number of Yemeni Jews facing severe persecution in their home country to move to the UK, The Independent has learnt.

The tentative agreement is the product of months of painstaking negotiations between the Foreign Office and the Yemeni authorities, who have struggled to contain rising anti-Jewish sentiment as they battle a sectarian insurgency in the north and growing al-Qa'ida-inspired militancy.

An estimated 20 or 30 families living in the northern town of Raida already have relatives living in the UK. They have been desperately trying to seek sanctuary here amid rising hate attacks, murders and forced conversions by the hostile Shia al-Houthi tribe, which dominates Yemen's mountainous border with Saudi Arabia.

Assaults against the country's small Jewish community intensified to such a level last year that the US State Department organised a series of airlifts to evacuate more than 100 Jews with connections to the Yemeni community already living in America.

Until now, Britain has always refused to offer a similar blanket refugee status to those with British relatives. Many Yemeni families in the UK have subsequently complained that their relatives' visa requests had been regularly turned down or held up. But under the terms of the new negotiations, Raida Jews with British connections will be invited to apply for a three-month visitor visa to see their relatives in Britain. There is still a group of 70 Jews living in the capital Sana'a under government protection, but they are not included in the negotiations with Britain.

Once out of the country, the Raida Jews will be able to claim refugee status, although each application will still be considered on an individual basis, unlike in the US where all Yemeni Jews are guaranteed asylum.

Spiriting the families out of the country on a visitor visa is important because it frees the Yemeni authorities from embarrassment and allows them to avoid claims that they can no longer protect the country's Jewish population, who have lived in the Arabian Peninsula for more than 2,000 years.

Foreign Office officials refused to confirm any deal last night, stating that "purdah" rules governing general elections forbade them from talking about any new policies until after 6 May. But sources close to the talks say the British embassy in Sana'a has begun informing the Raida Jews of their choices.

"The UK will allow the Raida Jews with UK ties to leave, but it's important that they don't officially leave the country as refugees," said one source, who asked not to be named because he is not authorised to speak about the negotiations. "They have brokered a deal with the Yemenis and agreed to keep this low profile." Another source said: "We haven't signed off on everything quite yet but we're nearly there."

The vast majority of the estimated 50 Yemeni Jewish families living in Britain have chosen to settle in Hackney, east London, because their customs are closest to the Charedi (Ultra-Orthodox) community who live in the Stamford Hill area. Many Charedi families, most of whom are Yiddish-speaking Jews who originate from central Europe, have already adopted Yemeni children and sponsored asylum applications.

Eli Low, who has spent more than a decade helping Yemen's Jews escape persecution, said yesterday: "Community activists are going into fast gear preparing the infrastructure needed to absorb the new arrivals." Families are also being encouraged to sponsor any new Yemeni children through schooling when they arrive, he added.

Yemen's government is uncomfortable with any suggestion that it has been unable to protect the country's Jews, who now number less than 400.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Health & Safety Consultant

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic and exciting opport...

Recruitment Genius: Project and Quality Manager

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is an independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Executive - OTE £20,625

£14625 - £20625 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This role is for an enthusiasti...

Guru Careers: Financial Controller

£45 - £55k DOE: Guru Careers: A Financial Controller is required to join a suc...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
10 best DSLRs

Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine