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Page last updated at 10:58 GMT, Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Britain's long relationship with Yemen

British troops in the then crown colony of Aden, 1965
British troops in the then crown colony of Aden, 1965

By Paula Dear
BBC News

Britain is to host a summit later this month on the terror threat posed by Yemen. While many countries will attend, the UK's relationship with the Middle East state is unique - going back more than 150 years.

For a country with a minimal international profile, Yemen has had a busy fortnight in the headlines.

First came news that the alleged failed bomber of a US airliner had been recruited by a branch of al-Qaeda in Yemen. Then, within days, Britain was one of three western states to shut its embassy in the country in response to a possible terror threat.

Prince Naseem Hamid
British born, to Yemeni parents, retired featherweight boxer Naseem Hamid

While the embassy, in the capital Sanaa, has reopened, though not to the public, terrorism remains a live threat and the UK has recently increased its spending on counter-terrorism activity in Yemen. It has also been upping aid donations to tackle poverty and encourage institutional reform over the last few years.

But this is not a new association. The territory now known as Yemen has loomed large in British consciousness since Victorian times when Britain ran the area around the port of Aden.

The UK-Yemeni relationship dates back to 1839, when the strategically crucial southern port was conquered by the British East India Company.

It was ruled as part of British India, until it was made a Crown colony in 1937.

Pressure for the British to leave South Yemen grew in the early 1960s and following a bloody few years of protests, attacks and civil war between royalists and republicans they were driven from Aden in 1967.

The North Yemen Republic and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen) were then formed, but years of fighting ensued before unification in 1990. However division, conflict and corruption remained and still does.

Abdul Razak Mossa
It is so sad, Yemen is a lovely country... now we are just seen as a state that harbours terrorism
Abdul Razak Mossa, British-Yemeni, Liverpool

The early links with Britain had led to Yemeni immigrants forming some of the oldest Muslim communities in the UK - particularly in the port areas of Liverpool, South Shields and Cardiff.

With Aden being the main refuelling stop for ships between Britain and the Far East, many of the seamen went to the UK to work and then settled.

In South Shields, for example, from the end of the 19th Century Yemenis working as stokers on steamships moved ashore and set up boarding houses in the dock area.

Later, people headed for work - typically factory jobs - in cities like Birmingham, Sheffield and London.

Students and people seeking asylum from more recent troubles in Yemen have added to those communities.

Many in those still thriving communities retain a strong connection to Yemen, and those like Abdul Razak Mossa believe the country tends to hit the headlines "for all the wrong reasons".

April '67 - British soldier apprehends demonstrator in Aden

The 46-year-old lives in Liverpool with his British wife and two children - a "Yemeni-Scouse, but without the accent," he says.

His father was part of an earlier wave of immigrants to South Shields in the 1950s, but later returned to Yemen, and Razak followed his path some three decades later.

"The Yemeni community is frustrated in terms of the failure of the regime to introduce reforms to allow fair and equal citizenship to all in Yemen," he says.

"It is so sad, Yemen is a lovely country, with a multitude of architecture, lovely beaches, helpful and charming people. Now we are just seen as a state that harbours terrorism. A lot of the British who spent time in Aden feel sorry for the country now."

Yemenis, he says, will be seen as a potential threat at airports and other public places. But he admits that he has yet to experience any ill-effects recently.

Meanwhile Razak - who first came to the UK from Nawa, north Yemen, to study engineering but is now a senior manager in social services - remains an active member of the British Yemeni community.

Map of Yemen
Population: 23.6 million (UN, 2009)
Capital: Sanaa
Major language: Arabic
Major religion: Islam
Oil exports: $1.5bn/24.5m barrels (Jan-Oct 2009)
Income per capita: US $950 (World Bank, 2008)

Some 3,500 miles away, Yemen - the poorest country in the Middle East - is seeing a strengthening of support with Britain with foreign aid set to rise by 400%, to £50m a year by 2011, says the Department for International Development.

As well as support for community-based development through the Social Fund for Development (SFD), it says it is promoting investment and growth, justice and policing, water resources management and humanitarian aid.

But Yemen faces a potential economic crisis (see factbox, below) not helped by the fact tourism levels have also taken a dive. Current Foreign Office advice to Britons is against all travel to the Sa'ada region, and against "all but essential travel" to the rest of Yemen due to the threat of terrorism, kidnapping and tribal violence.

Briton Henry Thompson was kidnapped with his Yemeni interpreter and driver while working for an aid agency in 1997, and held for two weeks by a tribe seeking financial aid and electricity and water projects.

But it hasn't put him off Yemen.

Poorest country in Middle East, Yemen faces potential economic crisis as low oil supplies dwindle rapidly
Pressure on water levels is also thought to be reaching a critical point
'Poverty in Yemen is closer to that of Sub-Saharan Africa than the Middle East,' says regional analyst Ginny Hill
Hill says UK, EU and US must press for a more 'regional approach' to Yemen in the Gulf
She says UK 'took lead' in trying to get Yemen's neighbours to improve development help to Yemen, to tackle poverty and support state institutions

He remains passionate about the country and since 2001 has spent about half the year working there doing oil and gas consultancy work, as well as development and NGO projects.

For security he works with local guides "who act as guards and guarantors of my safety" and is "obliged" to take military guards as well, he says.

"Yemenis must be among the most hospitable, friendly, slightly overbearing and welcoming people in the world," says Mr Thompson. "But unfortunately they've had a really hard ride over the last 20 years."

As a consequence he notices - as a westerner - getting more "hostile looks" in the street, he says, as the set of people who do now "broadly resent westerners" grows.

He and other expats in Yemen would prefer the focus to be more on aid and less on al-Qaeda, he adds.

"Our lack of aid spending leaves Yemen in the dust compared to its African peers.

"Above all, Yemen is 99.9% good people desperately trying to make a living and have some fun."

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The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Telegraph Yemen: Al-Qaeda recruited Detroit bomber in London - 40 mins ago
Reuters UK Plane bomb suspect joined al Qaeda in London -Yemen - 2 hrs ago
Financial TimesUS warned over military aid to Yemen - 18 hrs ago
Times Online Three al-Qaeda fighters arrested in Yemen - 25 hrs ago
Mail Online UK Downing Street 'blabbermouth' starts diplomatic row with U.S. over warnings about Detroit bomber - 30 hrs ago
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