“Given Cameron's determination to 'protect civilians in Syria' why not start by protecting Syrians with proven ties to the UK?”
Christine is a British citizen who met her husband Ziad while studying Arabic at Damascus University in May 2010, in Syria.
She had gone there as part her MA programme in Arab World Studies at Manchester University and instantly felt there was something special about this urbane, well-travelled man whose life had so many parallels with her own and over the months a strong connection developed between them.
Christine introduced Ziad to her parents when they came out to visit in August 2010. They loved him and by the time she left Syria in October felt he was the man she wanted to spend my life with.
They stayed in touch via Skype and phone, speaking as often as they were able to; exchanging gifts and letters back and forth through mutual friends travelling between the two countries.
In May 2011 the couple got engaged, planning to marry in Scotland amidst Christine’s friends and family before she moved to Syria to live with him in Damascus where Ziad had a thriving real estate business. Christine was optimistic about finding work with the UN or another humanitarian agency and Damascus was a city she loved with many close friends there, both Syrians and internationals who like her, were committed to staying there long-term.
However the Syrian Revolution changed all that. As a British citizen, Christine immediately became an object of suspicion by the regime and Ziad was worried for her safety in Syria, particularly because of the advocacy work she was doing to raise awareness about the situation in the UK.
As refugees flooded out, doors were closed on them from all sides. Getting a visa to the UK was impossible, and their plans to work in the Gulf received a blow when it too shut its doors on Syrians.
Christine carried on visiting Ziad however as she couldn't live without seeing him - but the security situation was deteriorating swiftly and it became impossible to stay. By the time she left for the last time in October 2012 Christine had gotten used to the check points and car bombs, sounds of shelling throughout the night, plumes of smoke over the city skyline and attack helicopters overhead. The couple was even shot at by snipers when they went to visit Ziad’s mother for dinner during Ramadan.
In December 2012, Ziad decided to flee the violence in Syria and join his family in Cairo but then they discovered he could not apply for a settlement visa from Egypt as he was neither an Egyptian citizen nor permanent resident. Christine was devastated. Ziad had no choice but to return to Syria and wait for the embassy in Beirut to process Ziad’s application.
They pre-poned their wedding plans, which was a difficult decision as they’d always wanted to celebrate with family and friends but with the security situation as it was Christine didn't want to wait any longer and so after getting married, they applied for a settlement visa for the UK in April 2013.
Christine begged Ziad to remain in Lebanon and not return to Syria but rampant inflation and unemployment has devastated people's savings and Ziad - like everyone else they know - simply cannot afford to stay in Beirut, one of the world's most expensive cities, as he awaits a decision.
The following six months were horrendous, with one heart-wrenching attack after another leaving Christine in fear of her husband’s life. The Home Office rejected the settlement application the first time round even though Christine meets the financial requirement and her husband has passed his English Language test at the British Council. The reason for refusal was claiming that the application did not include all the necessary evidence.
In the digital age, the Home Office rejected a bank statement showing cash savings of £58,000 in addition to Christine’s annual tax-free salary of £13,590, because it was an online statement, even though it had been stamped and verified.
They also claimed that without the certificate of entry into the KET the certificate provided of passing the exam was invalid. No common sense was allowed for...how would Ziad have been able to pass the exam if he hadn’t been allowed into the room to sit the exam?!
As Home Office refused to let them just then include the missing documents in the initial application, they reapplied on 15 July 2013 with the additional information also present.
However, given the serious escalation in the situation in Syria particularly in and around Damascus, the couple is very worried. Ziad lives only 15 mins away from the chemical weapon attack sites of late August, where a day later there was a huge car bomb. Ziad’s car has been was sprayed with bullets and he has been detained. No one knows why. Ziad is under threat from the regime who may not now allow him to even leave the country.
Christine asks, even while the UK considers how they will get involved in the Syrian situation, is does the UK Government not have a duty of care to the Syrian family members of UK citizens? Given that imminent military intervention has been considered, should the government not first help get our family members out the country or at the very least speed up their visa decisions? Given Cameron's determination to 'protect civilians in Syria' why can he not start by protecting Syrians with proven ties to the UK?
Christine is not asking for special measures to circumvent the rules (in any case she meets the visa requirements) but simply for her government to stop dragging its feet in determining the visa for her husband given the war in Syria.
Christine finally managed to cut through the red tape and sponsor her husband. He is safe and sound and the couple are also now proud parents to a beautiful baby.