LONDON: Thousands of Yemeni men who left their families to work in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s are fighting to have their pensions reinstated after they were abruptly cut off without explanation.
The men say they are now facing a daily struggle to survive in Yemen, which has been ravaged by seven years of civil war between the Iran-backed Houthis and the internationally recognized government, which is being supported by The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen.
The BBC has identified thousands of men, many of whom labored in factories across Britain, whose pension payments were suddenly stopped.
Thabet Muthanna Jubran arrived in Britain in 1967 and began working, like many fellow Yemenis, at Birmingham Small Arms factory in Small Heath, a metal manufacturer producing motorcycles and machine tools based in the heart of the bustling industrial city.
“When I was in Britain I did not ask for benefits or insurance, I relied on my own sweat of my brow and I do not know why this has happened to us,” he told the BBC.
Yemen and Britain had a close relationship after Yemen came under British rule in 1839, and many Yemenis, Jubran said, saw the UK as “the mother country.”
But now, according to the BBC, as many as 2,500 Yemenis have suddenly stopped receiving the pensions they earned while working in the UK.
The BBC said that it is not the fault of their companies, but rather Yemen’s fragile environment and the effect that has had on banking, as well as the lackluster response by the British Department for Work and Pensions.
“What is my fault that I am without a pension?” said Jubran.
“They know our situation, especially coronavirus, a war and high prices — what is our crime?
“They are stopping our pension. This (is) Great Britain, the mother of the world. Some people have died (waiting for their payments), their widows are very elderly — who will support them, especially now?” he asked.
According to the UN, seven years of war have left Yemen — already the poorest country in the Middle East — facing one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
Yemenis now face famine, disease, and war on a daily basis — all exacerbated by rampant inflation. The price of rice, a staple food, rose by 164 percent between February 2016 and October 2020.
Another man, Ahmed Omar Abdullah Al-Yafei, said he feels lost without his pension payment of £82 ($111) per month. That sum would buy very little in Britain, but offers him a lifeline amid the country’s spiraling crisis.
“Now (it’s been) five years I’ve been chasing. I did not receive any response from them,” he said.
“The message to Britain: Give us our money back,” he said, adding: “Yemen is a mess, (there is) hunger and war, all of which problems are unprecedented — the prices and inflation. Where do we go? Where do we go?”
Ragih Muflihi, chief executive of Sandwell Yemeni Association in the West Midlands, home to one of the largest Yemeni communities in the UK, is in contact with more than 50 of the former workers.
“People who came here to work came to work in the Black Country in the industrial areas, the steelworks.
“A lot of them lost their hearing or lost limbs working 30 to 40 years in factories and they’ve gone back (to Yemen) to live the final part of their lives; and to struggle because they’re not getting their pension is not acceptable really,” he said.
John Spellar, Labour MP for Warley in the West Midlands, where many of the men lived and worked, urged the government to “get a grip” of the problem.
“There was a problem with people verifying their existence and, even before the war, you’re dealing with ungoverned space," he said.
“But it was the utter refusal by the DWP to get a grip of cases when people provided evidence and people are living in severe destitution and we should not underestimate that,” he said.
He added: “The people from Yemen who came to the UK went to the Black Country, the West Midlands and Sheffield and worked in the metal industries which are hot, dusty conditions and they’ve done the UK a service which needs to be recognized.”