A Birmingham charity is helping more than 100 asylum seekers fleeing to the city each year. Paul Bradley talks to a mother and daughter who fear they will be killed if they are forced to return to their home country.
Iraqi pensioner Niala Melki and her daughter Salma Haddad were forced to flee the war-torn country when British and US forces invaded their home city of Basra in 2003.
As practising Christians, who are a minority in Iraq, they faced constant threats from killing mobs who believed they were supporting the invasion because of their religion.
They sought refuge in Birmingham but now, after five years of applications for asylum, the Home Office has refused their latest request.
The pair, who have been supported by Birmingham charity Restore, fear for their lives and said they were desperate to stay and put something back into the community that has supported them for the last five years.
They have one last chance to appeal against the Home Office ruling.
Ms Haddad, whose father was a doctor before he died of Leukaemia in 1998, said: “When my father died there was just me and my mother trying to look after ourselves in a patriarchal society.
“When the war broke out we had no choice but to flee as there were no men around to protect us from Iraqi security agents who were targeting us because of our faith.
“We’ve been in Britain now for five years and the people in Birmingham have treated us extremely well and we feel safe here.
“But we’ve been told we must return home, which is both ridiculous and extremely frightening. We have nothing there. No home, no family, no friends, no money - how would we survive?
“Within days we would be killed. If we are granted asylum here I can work part-time and care for my mother the rest of the time.”
The pair’s status is even more precarious due to Ms Melki’s ill health.
The 76-year-old, who suffers from severe arthritis, doesn’t know how much longer she will live and she is not capable of travelling.
Restore, a project run by Birmingham churches to offer support to about 100 asylum seekers each year in the city, is helping the family.
Both mother and daughter said they want to put something back into the community which has supported them and have had enough of living off government and charitable hand-outs.
Ms Melki, whose son became a British citizen in the 1970s after moving to Britain to work as an IT specialist, said: “We’ve been trying for years to get refugee status but we are being kept in limbo at the moment and can’t get on with our lives. Yet again we face another uncertain Christmas.”
Restore spokeswoman Shari Brown said: “If they are granted refugee status they start to have choices. They could move to Nottingham to be with Niala’s son, Salma could get a job and they could lead a proper life.”
The Home Office looked at 5,220 applications for asylum in the third quarter of 2008, rejecting 72 per cent of them.
A UK Border Agency spokesman said: “All applications for asylum are carefully considered by specialist caseworkers, taking into account all the relevant circumstances.
“Where an application is refused, there is a right of appeal to the independent courts. We would not remove someone with an outstanding appeal.”