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July 19, 2018

Yemeni fixer granted UK visa to attend ‘vital’ safety training after Home Office rejection prompted outpouring of support from journalists

By Charlotte Tobitt

A fixer from Yemen who works with international journalists covering the country’s civil war has now been granted a visa to attend “vital” safety training in the UK one week after it was at first denied.

The visa was issued to Ahmed Baider after pressure from diplomats, non-governmental organisations and journalists, many of whom spoke out online against the “shameful” decision.

Press Gazette also covered the story, reporting last week that Baider’s application had been denied on the grounds he had not provided enough evidence to prove he was a self-employed fixer.

This was despite the fact he attached covering letters from Sky News, ITV News and ABC News.

Baider has also worked with the likes of Channel 4 News and the Independent in the UK, CNN and PBS News Hour in the US plus French newspaper Le Monde and Danish broadcaster DR.

His job involves assisting journalists covering the conflict, for example setting up interviews with local contacts.

Baider received a bursary from London-based Rory Peck Trust to receive potentially life-saving hostile environment training in the UK, including media security and first aid skills.

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UK Visas and Immigration said he also had not proved he would leave the country after his training, even though Baider had given evidence of work planned with international media in August.

A Home Office spokesperson told Press Gazette on Friday: “All UK visa applications are considered on their individual merits and in line with UK immigration rules and guidance and officials will take into consideration evidence submitted with an application.

“In this case, the evidence provided was not sufficient to prove Mr Baider’s employment or financial situation was as claimed. However, if Mr Baider has further evidence to help his case, then he may wish to submit this in support of a fresh application.”

Yesterday, one week after it was denied, Baider was issued the visa after interventions from MPs and the British Ambassador to Yemen.

He now plans to visit the UK for his training on 26 July.

In a message to his “journalism family” yesterday, he said: “I have no words to express how I am very grateful for you all to push and stand beside me for my UK visa.

“Finally after your great support and tweets on social media the UK visa centre decide to issue me the visa.

“Many thanks for the British ambassador in Yemen, Mr Michael Aron, who tried to solve it. Of course many thanks to journalists from around the world. Many thanks for the UK NGOs.

“In the end we win, all of us, because we always say the truth.”

Cross-party MPs David Jones, Alistair Carmichael and Paula Sherriff, representing the board of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, wrote to Home Secretary Sajid Javid yesterday.

They said the decision was “unfair” and “reflects poorly on our country”, adding: “It is through the work of people like Ahmed Baider that the British public and British politicians are made aware of what is happening in Yemen.

“It is people like Ahmed Baider who offer protection, support and absolutely crucial local knowledge to British journalists reporting from a war zone. They act as a bridge between Yemen and the UK.

“As you are well aware, the situation in Yemen is horrific, and it is therefore even more important that we understand what is happening there through the work of  journalists such as Ahmed.

“We therefore urge you to reconsider Ahmed’s case and grant him a visa, and also reassess the wider approach that the Home Office exhibits when dealing with applications such as his.”

Many journalists shared their support for Baider on social media over the past week, including ITV News senior news editor Paul Tyson who shared photos of Baider at work with his team.

Yesterday Tyson tweeted: “Good news. Yemen fixer Ahmed Baider has been granted a UK visa to undertake safety and first aid training funded by Rory Peck Trust.

“Thanks to all who supported him on here and to the Foreign Office for right decision in the end.”

US Public Broadcasting Service special correspondent Jane Ferguson, who recently returned from several weeks in Yemen, had tweeted that she was “absolutely appalled” by the decision, saying Baider was “instrumental” to much of the international reporting from his country.

“He deserves not only the support of journalists and news organisations that have worked with him, but the viewers too,” she said.

Today, she said: “Fantastic news that Ahmed Baider has been granted a visa to the UK after a review of his case. Diplomatic pressure and loud support from the journalist and NGO community has worked. Thank goodness.”

The Independent’s Middle East correspondent Bethan McKernan added: “Wonderful news: Ahmed Baider says decision to deny him a UK visa has been reversed thanks to hard work of British diplomatic staff and pressure from NGO and journalist community.

“London, you are lucky to get a visit from this man.”

Picture: Ahmed Baider

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