A political asylum seeker from Yemen is pleading with the Home Office to process his case before his wife and five children are forced to return to their home country where he says they will be at risk of persecution.
Ali al-Bukhaiti, 43, a former politician who fled Yemen in 2015 after speaking out against government forces, arrived in the UK by plane in August and immediately claimed asylum in the hope that he would soon be able to apply for his family, who are currently in Jordan, to join him.
But he has received no word from the Home Office eight months on, and his family’s residency permit in Jordan has now expired, leaving them liable to be sent back to Yemen.
The country’s devastating civil war, which began in 2015 when Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies launched a bombing campaign to oust the Iran-backed Houthis and restore the government, has killed and injured more than 18,400 civilians and left 80 per cent of the population in need of humanitarian assistance.
To make matters worse for the family, Mr al-Bukhaiti’s eldest daughter, 17-year-old Tujan, is on trial in Jordan. She is facing charges of blasphemy for sharing her father’s criticism of both sides in the Yemeni conflict on social media.
Amnesty International has condemned the Jordanian authorities over the trial, accusing them of breaking international law by violating the teenager’s right to freedom of expression. It has urged them to drop this case immediately and allow her to continue with her studies.
Mr al-Bukhaiti said the charges against his daughter, as well as the heavy targeting of civilians in Yemen and his vehement criticism of all parties involved in the conflict, would place his family in grave danger in Yemen.
Speaking to The Independent, he said: “When I arrived in the UK I thought maybe finally I’d be able to express myself without retribution. I’d hoped that within a few months I would be able to be reunited with my family, but I was surprised that it looks like the UK is not so welcoming, even when the case is so clear and justified.
“My family is very much afraid, especially after the court case regarding my daughter. They’re feeling unsettled and unsafe. Being sent back to Yemen would pose a great danger to them, and after Tujan was tried and incited, the risks became greater.
“My biggest fear is that anyone who carries extremist ideas may attack my daughter. She is facing the consequence of my belief in my freedom of expression.”
Meanwhile, Mr al-Bukhaiti has not accepted asylum support from the Home Office and is currently renting an apartment in Kilburn, but said the delay in processing his case and the fact that he was unable to work while waiting was causing him to suffer financially and mentally.
Mr al-Bukhaiti said his inability to work had left him unable to send money back to his family and prevented him from attending a number of international conferences about the Yemeni conflict to which he has been invited.
“This asylum system is failing. People like me are capable of working and only need protection, but because of how the system is being run, it pushes you after a while to start thinking about how to apply for support, even though you don’t want to do this. I don’t want to reach the point where I have to start taking money from the British public,” he said.
“I arrived in the UK energised. I thought not being able to work would be a temporary thing and I would get back working and helping from here. But it has been eight months, which has affected my ability to be productive. It’s affecting my mental health.”
Home Office figures published in February revealed more than half (57 per cent) of asylum seekers in Britain now wait longer than six months for a decision on their case. Ministers are facing mounting calls for asylum seekers who have waited more than six months for a decision on their claim to be given the right to work.
Mr al-Bukhaiti’s solicitor Nath Gbikpi, an immigration lawyer at Wesley Gryk LLP, said the case illustrated how the Home Office “unnecessarily prolongs asylum seekers’ trauma and vulnerability”.
She added: “Asylum seekers are left in limbo, often without the right to work and having to rely on the assistance of the government or the goodwill of friends or charities. Those who have had to leave family members behind also have to worry about their safety and wellbeing.
“I understand the pressures the Home Office is currently experiencing, however, there should be a system to review cases at an early stage and expedite those who need to be expedited, whether because of family members left behind or other particular vulnerability of the asylum seeker.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring asylum claims are considered without unnecessary delay so that individuals in need of protection can start to integrate and rebuild their lives as soon as possible.
“Asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute are provided with free, fully furnished accommodation while applications are considered. We also cover utility costs and provide a cash allowance to cover other essential living needs.”