A Yemeni father who has been waiting over a year for his asylum claim to be processed has told how the Home Office botched his family’s application, sending his wife an ID card bearing a strange man’s photo.
The applicant, a successful designer who has lent his talents to the UK film industry and who wants to avoid being sent back to a war zone, told this newspaper how the department also granted his family residency cards “in error”.
He said he and his wife experienced panic attacks as a result of the slow and error-prone process. Moving to the UK under a student visa, he said he has always paid his way in Britain, rising to manage fellow workers at a company in London, and that he cannot face returning to Yemen.
Details of his case, which is a so-called “legacy” asylum application, will raise questions about claims made by home secretary James Cleverly that all outstanding asylum cases are “complex”, especially considering the high success rate of his fellow Yemenis in receiving some form of protection from the UK since the country is being ravaged by conflict.
Prime minister Rishi Sunak and Mr Cleverly announced at the beginning of the year that they had cleared all these older asylum claims, which were submitted before 28 June 2022.
However some 4,500 cases are still waiting on a decision, with Mr Cleverly saying it was “impossible” to know when they would be cleared.
Mr Sunak’s announcement was met with a rebuke last week by the UK Statistics Authority, which said people may feel they were “misled” by his language.
The Home Office had said that these “complex” cases typically involve “asylum seekers presenting as children – where age verification is taking place; those with serious medical issues; or those with suspected past convictions where checks may reveal criminality”. But the father said he didn’t fit any of these categories and should be a simple case.
Yemeni nationals are eligible for fast-tracked asylum claims because their grant rate is so high as a result of the ongoing war in their country. According to the most up to date data, for the year to October, shows that 396 Yemeni nationals claimed asylum – with 94 per cent given some form of protection in the UK.
Refugee charity Care4Calais says it has seen a number of other “legacy” asylum cases from nationalities that should have been quickly processed with a fast-track questionaire, such as Sudan and Yemen, but who are still waiting.
The Yemeni father, who came to the UK in 2021 on a student visa and is now working at a leading motion graphics company, told The Independent that politicians were wrong to describe cases like his as “complicated”. He detailed the stress his family has been going through not knowing if they will be granted asylum here.
The 34-year-old, who speaks perfect English, said: “They have been saying that there have been 4,500 complicated cases and that they are in three categories: age-disputed child, suspected criminal record, or people who are sick. We don’t fit in any of these categories and we came here legally.”
“There is something missing here and we are living in oblivion, we aren’t even allowed to know what is happening. It is really hard.”
Speaking about his life in the UK, he said that he is renting a home for his family and commutes into London to his full-time job at a motion graphics company, which provides effects for Hollywood films.
His wife has just given birth to their second child and their eldest daughter, five, loves going to the local school.
He had spent the majority of his life in Saudia Arabia but was forced to leave when the authorities began a crack down on Yemeni nationals in the country. Hundreds of Yemeni professionals were let go from their jobs in an apparent effort to tackle Saudi unemployment and as a result of the Saudi war against Yemen’s Houthi group.
When he first came to the UK, he spent a year studying for a masters degree as well as doing part-time work. A student visa usually allows someone to stay in the UK for five years and bring their partner and children. It is not possible to claim public funds on this visa and migrants have to pay a healthcare surcharge to access the NHS. Once someone claims for asylum their status is protected under the same conditions.
He said: “The image of asylum seekers that people see in the media is one of people coming here to ask for taxpayers’ money to live a stress-free life. I am actually myself a taxpayer and since I came here I have been working and I have been renting.”
Sharing an animated showreel showcasing his work, he said: “I have not taken a single penny from anyone. It is all on me. Right now, I lead a team doing motion graphics for the film industry.”
He explained that he applied for asylum in January 2022 and had his first screening interview five months later. He then received applicant registration cards (ARCs) for his whole family in December of that year, but his wife’s card came with the picture of a man they did not know.
He reported the issue and then received a questionnaire to fast-track his asylum application in March 2023. After submitting that, his family’s biometric residence permits arrived, showing that they had the right to live and work in the UK, but the photo was wrong again.
He explained: “When we got our biometric residence permits (BRPs) we had the same issue, with the same picture of the wrong person. We were completely afraid at that time that maybe that person would have my wife’s picture. We were worried that this person may commit crime with an ID card with my wife’s picture.”
After his local MP helped him raise the problem for a second time with Home Office officials, the family was told that “due to an IT glitch” the residence permit had been issued “in error”.
BRP cards are issued after someone has been granted asylum but the Home Office told the father that his asylum claim was in fact “still under consideration”, adding: “The family have not been granted asylum to leave to remain, or humanitarian protection, and any correspondence they may have received from us has been sent in error, and before any formal outcome has been made on their case.”
The father told The Independent of his desperation at receiving this news, saying: “We literally have nowhere to go. The only place we can go back to is Yemen, which is not a place for humans let alone a family. It is like somebody has given us a lollipop and then taken it away from our mouth.
“It is an expression that we use in Arabic – after making you happy and as if your life is without stress, everything is taken back from you.”
He added: “My five-year old daughter knows all about ARCs and BRPs and it’s sad to hear a child this age knowing all this. Both my wife and I are having anxiety and panic attacks.”
The father is not the only person from a country that should be fast-tracked through the asylum system who is stuck in the legacy backlog. One Sudanese man who arrived in the UK in 2020 said he was devastated by the endless wait to hear whether or not he had been granted asylum.
He said: “I have lost four years of my life. I do not know what to do. No one helps me, no one tells me what to do. All I am doing is just waiting and waiting.”
Steve Smith, CEO of Care4Calais, said: “Despite the government’s claims to have cleared their so-called ‘legacy’ backlog, our volunteers are in contact with asylum seekers across the country who arrived in the UK prior to June 2022 and who are still waiting for a decision.
“This includes people from countries who should have been processed through the ‘fast-track questionnaire’ system and those who have attended their interview with the Home Office.”
He added that the charity was seeing many “Home Office errors” in handling asylum cases “including asylum claims being erroneously withdrawn as a result of Home Office mistakes”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “All asylum applications are carefully considered on their individual merits and in line with the immigration rules.
“It is longstanding government policy that we do not routinely comment on individual cases.”