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Yemeni woman makes epic eight-month journey to reach UK
Time 08:10 PM (Guardian)

 

A woman who crossed eight borders, two deserts and one sea to get to the UK to claim asylum has spoken for the first time about her incredible journey.

The 29-year-old, who calls herself Noor, escaped from Yemen when her life was threatened and travelled alone with only smugglers and other desperate migrants for company en route. It is highly unusual for a woman from a country such as Yemen to embark on this kind of journey unaccompanied.

 

She was determined to flee not only because her own life was in danger but also in the hope of rescuing her four children from the Yemen civil war once she had reached safety.

Noor was forced into marriage at the age of 14, but later managed to divorce her husband and became a human rights campaigner, focusing on girls’ rights to education and the right not to be forced into marriage as children.

Her oldest daughter is at risk of child marriage in Yemen and she says time is running out to bring her daughter and three younger sons to safety.

Yemen has been described as one of the worst places in the world to be a woman and has been ranked last for 13 consecutive years in the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap index.

Now that she has arrived in the UK she wants to campaign against child marriage and lack of rights for girls and women in Yemen.

“I have been through a lot,” she says, describing her eight-month journey. She fled Yemen when it became too dangerous to remain there because of the conflict and her work as a human rights activist employed by a monthly youth magazine.

Noor’s journey began on 14 November 2019 by plane and continued by Jeep through one desert, then through another on foot before reaching Europe and crossing to the UK by small boat from Calais in July 2020. She had passed through Egypt, Mauritania, Mali, Algeria, Morocco, Spain and Fran

 

She was not able to take many possessions with her before leaving her four young children in the care of family members, but packed two items – cash and battery acid.

“I sold all my gold jewellery and borrowed as much money as I could from friends and family to pay all the different smugglers who helped me to move from one country to another,” she said.

“As well as the money I took with me I drained the acid from a car battery and concealed it in an empty bottle of face cream. I decided that if any man attacked me on my journey I could throw the acid at them to fend them off.”

Fortunately, she did not need to use it.

There were several points during her journey when she was sure she would never achieve her dream of reaching the UK.

“We were walking across the desert through the night. It was very dark. The smugglers knew the route but I did not. I fell and injured my hand and legs and became separated from the others. It is so cold at night in the desert I was sure I would die. I clung on to a tree and by some miracle the smugglers found me after three hours.”

She said crossing from Algeria to Morocco was particularly difficult and it took her 17 attempts.

 

“I finally made it to Spain but suffered a lot of abuse so travelled to France. I stayed by myself in a tent in Calais and paid out the last bit of my money to smugglers there to get me to the UK. Altogether, I paid smugglers €17,000. The smugglers said the boat was for 15 people but they crammed in 21. It started filling with water. We thought we would drown but the UK coastguard rescued us. I was lucky to cross at the first attempt and I was lucky to survive.”

Noor said she was forced into a marriage at the age of 14. “My father forced me into the marriage and my uncle falsified documents to say I was 18. Within a year I had given birth to my first child, a daughter who is now almost the same age as me when I was forced into marriage. I hope I can get her and my other children out of Yemen before the same thing happens to my oldest daughter.”

Noor has been accommodated in a hotel in London by the Home Office and is waiting for her claim to be processed.

“I am emotionally broken by everything that has happened on my journey to the UK. I feel so weak. But what keeps me going is the need to deliver my message about human rights and the importance of change for women and girls in Yemen.

“Maybe I survived this terrible journey so I can deliver my message.”

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