ReflectionsGive them a fair shake! [Archives:2004/723/Opinion]

March 25 2004

By Yahya Al-Olfi
[email protected]

It is known that under the Imamic rule of Northern Yemen, some individuals due to the difficult economic situation had to migrate south to the Sheikhdoms, Sultanates and Emirates which were nurtured by the British at the time and were called Protectorates and comprehensively termed then by colonialist Britain as “South Arabia” whilst Yemenis in general called them collectively the occupied South. The British went further in their plans and tried to establish a Federal State prior to their hasty and disorganized furtive withdrawal due to the fatal attacks dealt to them by the then named “National Front”.
Anyhow, upon the arrival of some northern Yemenis to the south most of those individuals worked a little and saved some money in order to purchase a citizenship in any of the 22 above-mentioned British sponsored Sheikhdoms, Sultanates and Emirates (the British applied their motto DIVIDE AND RULE effectively here, for they gave Sultans, Emirs and Sheikhs monthly salaries and gave them a state welcome whenever they paid a visit to Aden Colony).
After saving enough money the migrants approached the competent employees in those entities and obtained a passport or a travel document. Others had to purchase Indian British, Tanzanian British or, Pakistani British documents (although the British knew about that, their need for manual workforce made them overlook the whole thing). Now, that they had documents they approached British commercial ships that were in need of manual workers, at first in order to shovel coal for the ships before the advent of steamers and later most of them had to work in British steel factories as crane drivers, iron slingers etc., or perform manual work e.g. janitors, porters or oilers on steamers.
These workers used to save some money and sent it back to their families. Whenever they became unable to continue work they returned to Yemen, often to die and be buried. A few of them asked for their pensions and many more due to their illiteracy did not know their rights, including the pension, and passed away without receiving a penny. In fact I have myself witnessed some such cases and advised many of them to apply for their pensions and some of them did. One of the funniest cases I was able to fathom is of a man who earned a disability pension from France and a retirement pension from Britain and returned to Yemen to till the land until his death, simply because he did not know about something called “Pension”.
Due to my involvement in translation, I have been approached by many who either would like to claim pensions, complete their formalities or file complaints to the Pension Service. I have noticed many cases, in which marriages are not recognized by the British Pension Service because the pensioner failed to mention the names of his ex-wives, whether real or imaginary, failed to give exact dates etc
The former British Department of Social Security, shortly referred to as “DSS” before the advent of the current Labour Government used to be more sympathetic and responded immediately to all claims served. However, some fraudulence was discovered in the British Embassy here in Sana'a in the mid 1990s, involving fraudulent applicants in association with collaborators from inside the embassy. This negative aspect was reflected in an indiscriminate reaction causing harm to many bona fide pensioners.
Because of the said reaction if one did not give exact dates about one's marriage(s), birth dates etc. one's spouse is disqualified arbitrarily. Thus, from meticulous study of some files I discovered that the majority were lawful applicants and that, mistakes in dates of birth stemmed from the fact that Yemen had no Death and Birth Registry at the time, so dates were merely surmised. Marriages were declared and in most cases marriage contracts were lost but it did not matter, as the basic thing in marriage according to Islam is its due declaration and proclamation. Also, most applicants did not consider such documents important.
Others might have lied about having many wives and children in order to avoid taxation deductions on their salaries. Therefore, in order to be fair to the said pensioners, I wonder why the British Pension Service does not require suspicious cases to undergo DNA testing (e.g. for the prime applicant, his spouse and any of the children) so that justice can be served and the image of the British justice remain untarnished due to arbitrary disqualification of some cases.
In the meantime I call upon the British Ambassador and the Yemeni Foreign Minister to sign the agreement pertaining to similar treatment in retirement affairs. I do not know the exact name with that the British call such an accord, but signing it will guarantee annual increases in pensions, as is the case with many other countries who have signed such agreements with the U.K.