UPDATE: Jackie has raised over £7,000 with the crowfunder to help bring her family to safety (see below)
The Government has been accused of “giving up” on a British family abandoned in war-ravaged Yemen as the country faces the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in 50 years.
The United Nations says the nightmare scenario is even more desperate than it previously thought, with half the population now teetering on the brink of famine.
“We’re desperate,” relatives in Cardiff revealed, saying the family are “stuck in Yemen through no fault of their own.”
“We’d urge the Government to reconsider – they’ll have blood on their hands if anything happens to Safia and those children.”
For Cardiff mum Jackie Morgan the deepening emergency brings daily agony as she desperately tries to repatriate daughter Safia, snatched from the UK by her then husband over 30 years ago.
This week her rescue bid was dealt a crushing blow when Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt told her the Government was unable to help.
Jackie, 56, said: “They don’t want to know. Safia and my grandchildren are British citizens and they’ve been left there to starve to death.
“I’m dreading telling her that the Government has washed its hands of them.”
Jackie was a naive 15-year-old living in Cardiff with her parents when she fell for Yemeni immigrant Sadek Saleh, eight years her senior.
By 18 she had given birth to their daughter Rahannah, born in 1980.
She went on to have two more girls with Sadek – Nadia, born in 1982, and Safia, now 34.
Said Jackie: “Neither his nor my parents approved of our relationship, but at that age you think you know it all.
“I wish I had listened because although we were happy at first, Sadek soon showed his true colours.
“He drank heavily and gambled away every spare penny we had, so we were constantly broke.
“I ended up in a refuge with the three girls, but conditions were so bad I went crawling back home to try and make my marriage work for the sake of the children.”
On May Bank Holiday 1986, Sadek took the girls to stay with relatives overnight in Cardiff.
Little did Jackie know as she kissed her children goodbye it would be the last time she’d see them for almost two decades.
She recalls: “I was stuck at home poorly with the flu. Sadek took the children visiting, and I expected them home the next day.
“I waited and waited and when they didn’t come back I frantically called relatives, but no one had seen any of them.
“Eventually I called the police and they discovered Sadek had flown to Saudi Arabia with the children the previous day.
“It’s still a mystery how he got them out of the UK.
“Rahannah and Nadia were on my passport and he’d taken that with him, but Safia wasn’t, and she was only 18 months old. How was she even allowed to leave the country?
“Sadek was under no illusion that I wanted a divorce but he wouldn’t give me one because he knew I would get the kids.
“Then, just like that, they were gone – with just the clothes on their backs.”
Sadek flew onwards to Yemen and later wrote to Jackie, returning her passport and boasting that she would never see the girls again.
With no extradition treaty in place, Jackie was told British police were powerless to act.
“I was devastated,” she says. “I was their mother, and they’d been ripped from home.”
Jackie later met someone new and had another daughter, Lucy Hewer.
She never gave up hope of a reunion with her estranged children, and appealed to government officials, the British Embassy in Yemen and even Interpol for help.
Her efforts proved futile but in 2000 she received a letter out of the blue from Rahannah, who revealed her father had told the girls Jackie was dead.
Ignoring warnings from British authorities about her safety, Jackie flew to Yemen and was briefly reunited with Rahannah and Nadia over a two week trip.
“I was only able to see Safia for fifteen minutes before Sadek discovered I was in Yemen and came looking for me with a gun,” she remembers. “I barricaded myself in a room, terrified that he was going to find me, before I fled to the airport.”
Later the same year, Jackie paid for Rahannah and Nadia to spend three months visiting Cardiff. Safia was stopped from joining her sisters by their father.
Says Jackie: “I wanted them to stay but they had lives back in Yemen and they were missing their husbands.
“It was heartbreaking when they flew home, but at least now I knew where they were, and had established some contact with them.”
As the years passed, Jackie all but lost contact with Rahannah, and she learned in 2011 that Nadia had tragically died giving birth to her fourth child.
Coincidentally, Sadek was killed the same year in a car accident.
Civil war escalated in Yemen in 2015 when Houthi rebels – who now control the capital, Sana’a – seized control of the west of the country.
President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia, and government loyalists were pushed back to the city of Aden, where Safia lives with her son, Mohammed, 12, and three daughters, Jacqueline, 11, Lucy, 10 and Asalah, 2.
Hadi’s supporters are being backed by a Saudi-led coalition of middle-eastern countries, which has instigated a blockade of Houthi-held ports.
The UN says at least 6,660 civilians have been killed and 10,560 injured in the conflict.
Meanwhile the blockade means Yemen’s people are starving – with 50,000 children a year dying of “extreme hunger and disease”.
Two-thirds of Yemen’s population don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
UN Humanitarian Chief Mark Lowcock said in a report last week that 14 million people could soon be facing “pre-famine conditions, meaning they are entirely reliant on external aid for survival.”
Last year, as Jackie and Lucy listened helplessly to news of the worsening crisis, Safia contacted them out of the blue with a desperate plea for help.
Said Lucy: “She is literally scraping by, livinq in squalid conditions and skipping meals because she and her husband Labib can’t afford to buy food.
“We’ve just had to send money out to them because the whole family has been poorly with typhoid and they haven’t eaten properly for weeks.
“For now, they seem to be getting food on the black market, but everything is so expensive.”
Lucy enlisted the help of Labour MP Kevin Brennan – but his letters to the Home and Foreign Offices have fallen on deaf ears.
Alistair Burt, Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa, responded saying the Foreign Office had no evacuation procedure in place and was “unable to provide any form of assisted departure for British nationals in Yemen.”
Meanwhile Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes risibly suggested Safia apply for a British passport online.
Said Lucy: “It goes to show how out of touch they are.
“It’s civil war. People are starving, buildings have been reduced to rubble, and the communications system has been shattered.
“Sometimes days go by without even a WhatsApp message from Safia and we don’t know if it’s because of a power cut or because she’s been killed in a bombing.
“Yet somehow she’s expected to just pop online, pay for passports and presumably wait for the postman to arrive with a recorded delivery.
“And what is she meant to do with the passports when she’s got them? She doesn’t even have enough money to eat, let alone buy plane tickets.”
And Kevin Brennan, MP for Cardiff West, commented: “It’s disappointing that there’s no real effort by the Government to help. They seem to have given up.”
The Government inaction means the family’s only hope is to raise enough money to buy flights for Safia and the children from Yemen to Cairo, and then onwards to the UK – at a cost of around £6,000.
Said Lucy: “Labib is prepared to say goodbye to his family to give them a chance of survival and a new life here in the UK.
“We managed to raise about £1,000, but with the daily problems Safia is facing, we’re having to dip into that money just to keep them all alive.
“We’re desperate. Safia is stuck in Yemen through no fault of her own. She was taken from the UK against her and my mum’s will. We’d urge the Government to reconsider – they’ll have blood on their hands if anything happens to Safia and those children.”
Welsh Assembly Member Neil McEvoy has launched a Crowd Funding campaign to raise money for the rescue bid : https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/cardiff-girl-trapped-in-yemen
By @Robin_Eveleigh and @BenGelblum