CHURCHGOERS in Leeds have launched a campaign to halt the
deportation of a women's-rights activist from Syria, and her
husband, who are seeking asylum in the UK.
Members of the congregation at All Hallows' led a demonstration
on Monday outside an immigration centre in Leeds, in support of the
activist Raja Khouja and her husband, Mahmoud Alhassan, who have
been part of their community for more than four years.
Ms Khouja, who is 56, fears for her life if the Home Office goes
ahead with plans to deport them to her husband's home country Saudi
Arabia. She says that her work, trying to improve the status of
women in the Arab world, has put her in direct conflict with the
Saudi Mutawa - the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the
Prevention of Vice.
She has received emails and phone calls threatening death,
imprisonment, and mutilation if she enters Saudi.
She and Mr Alhassan, aged 67, were holidaying in Britain in 2010
when the Syrian civil war flared up, making return to their home in
Damascus impossible. They have been seeking asylum in the UK since
2011, but the Home Office has rejected the threats against her as
Sarah Fishwick, who, with her husband Robin works with the
church-led Leeds Asylum Seekers Support Network, says: "If she goes
to Saudi, she is in mortal danger. . . Raja and Mahmoud came to us
as part of the Great Hosting Scheme, in which people give a night's
stay to destitute asylum-seekers who are homeless, but they stayed
for over a year.
"Despite being Muslims, they came with us to All Hallows' fairly
regularly. People in the church know them and love them. We are
praying that we will get a positive resolution to this."
This week, the couple, who are currently held in the Yarl's Wood
Immigration Removal Centre, near Bedford, were waiting for news of
an application for a judicial review of their case. If it was
rejected, they faced the possibility of immediate deportation.
Mrs Fishwick said that Ms Khouja had remained upbeat despite her
uncertain position, and almost daily reports from family in Syria
about atrocities, bombings, and deaths, including the fatal
mutilation of a young cousin after he refused an order to shoot
"She is a really amazing person. We live in a housing community
of about 20 families, and all the kids absolutely love her; mine
adore her. She loves playing with the children, and, despite all
this going on, she manages to be really cheerful and loving."
The Executive Secretary of the West Yorkshire Ecumenical
Council, the Revd Dr Clive Barrett, has urged people to email the
Home Secretary, and Qatar Airlines, which is scheduled to return
the couple to the Middle East.
He said: "We call on the Home Office to stop the removal,
release them from detention, and give them leave to remain until
they are safe to return to their home, Syria. They are much loved
and respected here. . . We are gravely concerned for Raja's safety
were she to be removed to Saudi Arabia."
A Home Office spokeswoman declined to comment on their case.