Anything To Declare? [Archives:1998/37/Reportage]

September 14 1998

Ms. Waffa Alawi Nasser

During the 1950s and 1960s, a lot of Yemeni people decided to leave the country they were born in to earn a better living. Britain was a popular destination for many of these people. Why? Well that’s why I decided to talk to a few Yemenis who had to endure much hardship to earn their living in a foreign land, far different to their own.
There is a large Yemeni community in Britain. They believe that once you’re in England, you need never wish for anything more, but there are advantages and disadvantages facing many immigrants today.

Mr. and Mrs. N moved to England some time ago. Mr. N says: “The first time I went to England was in the late 1950s. I got married in Morocco in 1968, then we both settled in England permanently. Roughly, I’ve spent about 40 years in England, while my wife has spent about 30 years there. Originally, I lived mainly in Liverpool, but I’ve also spent time in places like Sheffield, Warrington, Manchester and London. My wife has also lived in Sheffield, but mainly Liverpool. I worked in steel and soap factories in the late 1950s. Then I opened my own business; news agent / grocery store.”

Mrs. N worked in sweet factories in the early 1970s. Mr. N goes on to say, “the reason for my returning back to Yemen, is that I’ve worked basically all my life, and I felt it was time to settle down back in the old country.” Mr. & Mrs. N have two children, a son and a daughter, both are adults now. Their son and daughter studyed in England, but also worked in their parents family business.
“I can speak, read and write English, but not very well,” says Mr. N. His wife comments, “I can also speak English and learned how to read and write English at evening classes before I had my first child in the early 1970s.”
I asked them whether they read any English newspapers, etc.? “I didn’t bother with them much. For the news, I used to listen to the BBC in the early days,” disclosed Mr. N. Mrs. N also comments, “I also did not bother with newspapers.”
What about hobbies? “I had no hobbies, I was too busy working.” They spent their given holidays in Yemen and France. Mrs. N said, “I also used to take my children on trips to places like Blackpool or New Brighton.” Neither of them bothered with places like theaters or cinemas. Mr. N: “I had no time for those places, although my wife used to go to the cinema, but not regularly.”
They go on to talk about their likes and dislikes about England. “We dislike the violence, although the majority of the people are very friendly. We do like the fact that England takes education very seriously.”
Mr. & Mrs. N both reached the age of retirement in England, receiving roughly £400 a month as a joint pension. They both have British passports.
I asked Mr. & Mrs. N, whether they would encourage their children to work or study in England. They both agreed, “we would rather have our children working or studying here in Yemen, even though there are less opportunities.”
The N family are now living in Yemen with their daughter who is working, while their son is studying in England.
Finally, I asked them whether they prefer England or Yemen? They replied, “both Yemen and England have their advantages and disadvantages, so we can’t really answer that question.”
I then spoke with another family, Mr. & Mrs. S. They first moved to England in the mid-1970s, and spent over 20 years of their lives there. “We mainly lived in Sheffield, but also in Liverpool. I’ve worked in factories.,” says Mr. S. Mrs. S, on the other hand, said: “I did not work that much. I am mainly a housewife, and feel that it is up to my husband to work. I had to look after our three children at that time. We have five children now, two daughters and three sons.” Their children studied in England.
They then went on to tell me about the family business they started in the early 1980s. “We opened our first store in Liverpool, but we came back to Yemen in 1994 because we felt it was time to return back home.”
Mr. & Mrs. S both speak English very well. “I can speak English, but reading and writing is difficult. I learned just enough to get by. My wife, on the other hand, started to go to evening classes to learn how to read and write English, we both speak enough English to get us by.”
I asked Mr. & Mrs. S whether they used to buy English newspapers and magazines, and whether they had any hobbies at all. “We only read the newspapers and magazines that we sold in our shop, but most of the time, in the early 1990s we started reading the Arabic newspapers that were available. As for theaters and cinemas, we were both too busy working.”
Hobbies? “Well, we had no time for any.” Mr. & Mrs. S spent their rare vacations in Yemen. I asked them both whether they had a fixed savings account? “No we had to have a business account.”What do they think of England? “We dislike the weather, the violence and racism. We like the fact that our children are getting a proper education.” Mr. & Mrs. S both retired in Yemen. They both receive around £330 monthly as their pension payment. They also obtained British passports.
Do they encourage their children to work or study in England? “We prefer them to work or study here in Yemen.” Now Mr. & Mrs. S do not work. Their children are grown up and married, some of them study and work.
Finally, I asked them both whether they prefer England or Yemen? “Well, Yemen is our home, but we do see some of the advantages that England holds.”
Mr. & Mrs. R moved to England in the early 1970s, and spent over 30 years there. Originally, they lived in Sheffield. But in 1982 they moved to Liverpool to take over a business, newsagent/ grocery store, formerly owned by one of their relatives.
I asked them what their reasons were for leaving England to come back to Yemen? “We came back in 1995, because we felt it was time to settle down with our families. But we do have plans to return to England for a possible visit.”
The R’s have four children, three sons and a daughter. They are all grown up and working in England now.
“We both speak, read and write English. Although reading and writing are always difficult, we get by quite well.” I also asked them whether they ever bought English newspapers and magazines, and also what were their hobbies and whether they ever took holidays abroad? “Well, we only read the English newspapers that we sold in our shop, so I guess we did have to take some interest in them. Hobbies and holidays? “We were both too busy to have any hobbies, but we did take yearly holidays to Yemen to see our families. Mr. R never used to go to cinemas or theaters. “I was far too busy, but my wife went to the cinema sometimes. But on the whole, we were both too busy working.”
I went on to ask them about their likes and dislikes in England? “We dislike the weather and the violence. Of course we do like the job opportunities, and the fact that our children can work or study with real potential.”
They came back to Yemen on reaching the age of retirement in England, and now both receive an average of £310 a month as pension payment. They both have British passports.
“We would like to encourage our children to work or study in England, simply because there are no great job opportunities here in Yemen, but we do ultimately want our children to be with us.”
Mr. & Mrs. R are now retired and they do not work here in Yemen, they just enjoy their time with their families. Their children are grown up, they mostly live and work in England, they have taken over their parents’ business, and their daughter is a secretary.
They concluded: “We prefer England to Yemen, but our families are here. So we can’t really decide which is better.”
Mr. & Mrs. T, went to England in 1972, as Mr. T will explain: “We arrived in England in 1972, spending over 20 years there. Originally we were in Liverpool, but we’ve lived in Manchester, Birmingham and London. Originally, we went to England to study then we later opened a shop.” I asked Mr. T why they returned to Yemen? “Well we came to Yemen just for a holiday, and because we were born in Yemen, it is our home.”They have five children, two sons and three daughters all of whom now study in England.
They all speak, read and write English. I asked Mr. T whether they both used to buy English newspapers? “Yes, we used to buy the Daily Mirror, the Sun, the Liverpool Echo, etc.” Mr. & Mrs. T have no hobbies as such, but on holidays they always come back to Yemen to see their families.
What do they like or dislike about England? “We like the friendly people, and we didn’t have much trouble. What we don’t like is the crime, but there is crime everywhere really.” They both have British passports.
What about their offspring? “We encourage them to study in England as there are a lot more opportunities.” They don’t do much in Yemen now, they enjoy going around exploring different places and they like visiting their families. Their children enjoy spending time in a village near Rada’a, where their father was born.
Do they prefer England or Yemen? “Well, we like both, we have not decided on that yet.”
Finally, I asked Mr. & Mrs. D. The father explains his story to us:
“I left Yemen in 1965 with my wife. We stayed in England from 1965 until 1981. I worked in a Sheffield steel factory, then lived in Warrington for a few years and moved to Manchester. I left all this hard work to open a shop in Liverpool in 1975.
“Our main reason for coming back to Yemen was to mainly bring up our kids here and to lead a Yemeni life. Also we all felt as Yemenis, we don’t belong in England.”
Mr. & Mrs. D have three children, one daughter and two sons, all were born and educated in England. They also did some of their studies in Yemen.
Mr. & Mrs. D can speak English, but reading and writing are somewhat difficult for them. I asked them about their hobbies? “Well you could say our hobbies were working in the shop, we were all too busy for anything else.”
I also asked them about holidays? “Well hardly ever, but we used to take our children to places like New Brighton or Southport, not regularly of course. I went to Yemen once for a holiday, but really it was for business.”Their likes and dislikes about England? “Well apart from the weather, we were always living in fear. It was the crime, violence and racism. We liked the fact that we had our own business and we had employment, and the civil society that we were living in. Yemen is different. For example, our village has no electricity, no running water, etc.”I asked whether they encouraged their children to go back to England? “I’ve never really encouraged them to go back, nobody likes to encourage their children to leave their family.”Their children are grown up and married. The daughter is in the village, while their two sons work. Mr. D receives a pension of over £100 a month.
Finally, I asked them both whether they prefer England or Yemen? “We prefer Yemen, but we wouldn’t mind going back to England for holidays.”
Lastly, I would like to thank all the families who took part in this mini-survey. So now, what can we conclude by reading these different stories? There will always be advantages and disadvantages concerning living both in Britain and Yemen.
However, ordinary Yemenis are no longer able to make their own way to England, like they used to three or four decades ago. Visa issuing is very restricted now that only senior businessmen, academics and well-off people or students are allowed into Britain.
But still, some Yemenis desperately want to go to Britain since the grass always seems greener on the other side. Britain is not heaven, people have to really work hard to earn their living there. But is it worth it for Yemeni people to leave their homes and families just for a fist full of “Quids?”