Politicians and Jewish community leaders this week called on the government for “urgent” help to get one of the last Jewish families left in war-torn Yemen to London to reunite with Stamford Hill relatives.
Supporters of the family say they are “subject to persecution” as efforts build to help facilitate the arrival of the six family members, including the mother, father, three girls and the father’s mother, who has just turned 70.
Their plea for help came as the United Nations said last weekend that the Yemen conflict “has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, a crisis which has engulfed the entire country”.
Supporters say the family are “living in appalling conditions and their lives are in danger” and that the Home Office has advised that the family needs to apply to come to the UK, but the visa application centre in Yemen is closed.
Jewish News has seen the names and dates of birth of the six family members, two of whom are under the age of 18, who are seeking refuge in the UK, as well as copies of legal opinions discussing how best to help.
A spokesman for the family said: “We understand that no special procedure will apply to them and that they need to make a valid application to come to the UK. However, we hope that, given their particular plight, this will be considered favourably.”
The fighting has brought the country to its knees, with enormous bombing damage to infrastructure. The only way out is currently by flying to Russia, but the UK does not accept applications for refugee status made outside of the UK.
Lawyers have said they could make an Article 8 application for entry clearance to come to the UK, and that any decision-maker would need to consider whether refusal would breach the family’s rights, or the rights of their London-based sister.
Brandon Lewis, who had until last week was immigration minister, was asked to consider whether “exceptional circumstances” exist in this family’s case, with legal exceptions having previously been made for Kosovan refugees and the Vietnamese boat people.
The situation in Yemen is extreme. Top charities said this week that three quarters of people there now need humanitarian assistance, including 11.3 million children who cannot survive without it.
Two thirds do not have enough to eat and 16 million do not have safe water or proper sanitation. Most lack basic health services.
Ivan Lewis, the Jewish MP for Bury South who is currently suspended over allegations of sexual harassment, previously proposed a special programme for Yemeni Jews while he was a junior minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at the end of the last Labour government, but this was never implemented.
“Without some such policy decision having been made before they travelled out of Yemen, it would be foolish for the family to leave,” said Levi Schapiro, director of the Jewish Community Council in Stamford Hill, who is among those pushing for help.
“These is, unfortunately, no indication these three girls will be treated in a similar way to others fleeing persecution. We continue to hope that ministers can help find a way to bring this family to London to be reunited.”
Speaking to Jewish News, MP Andrew Percy said he had met with immigration ministers and “repeatedly raised the case of these remaining Yemeni Jews”, as yet to no avail. “They are living in a very dangerous environment and we desperately need to get them out of the country,” he said. “So far, we have been assured that they will be able to seek to apply to enter the UK if they can leave the country and claim asylum at a UK Embassy, but this is not an automatic guarantee that they will be allowed in.”
He added: “I’m calling on the government to make special provision for this small group of people who live with the daily threat of attack.”