A fixer from Yemen who has been “instrumental” in helping UK and US journalists in their coverage of the country’s ongoing civil war was yesterday denied entry to the UK to attend crucial safety training.
Ahmed Baider works with British media organisations including ITV News, Sky News, Channel 4 News and the Independent, as well as other broadcasters and newspapers in the US and Europe.
His job involves assisting journalists covering the conflict, for example setting up interviews with local contacts.
The 25-year-old was recently granted a bursary from London-based Rory Peck Trust, which supports freelances worldwide, to attend potentially life-saving hostile environment training.
These courses usually cover skills like radio communications, trauma first aid, conflict management, how to maximise chance of survival in the case of kidnap or hostage-taking, and how to recognise landmines or IEDs.
But Baider’s application for a UK visa was denied yesterday on the grounds he had not provided enough evidence to prove he was a self-employed fixer, despite including recommendation letters from UK media groups.
He sent the application from Egyptian capital Cairo and was also told he had failed to show he had sufficiently strong ties to the country to prove he would leave the UK at the end of the visit.
He told Press Gazette: “I was very shocked. I am the one who takes care [of] British people. I am the one who helps British people report in Yemen. It was very provocative to be honest.”
Baider plans to try again and said his British journalist friends – his “family in journalism life” – are working with the Home Office to try and get the decision changed.
He said: “At the beginning when I received the email early morning I thought I am alone. But I really discovered that I have a big family. They were very angry.
“This happened to many Yemenis before. Although they complete all the requirements, they always get rejected. Everyone thinks that we are asylum seekers where we are not.
“I am not going to destroy my future and ask for asylum when I am a well-known and a respected man in my country.”
In a message sent to his British journalism contacts, seen by Press Gazette, Baider shared his belief he had been rejected only because of his Yemeni passport.
He wrote: “It’s not my fault to carry a Yemeni passport, but we are all in the end humans.
“Many Yemeni people have been rejected before and I can tell all the visa officers when they see [a] Yemeni passport they process it with negative thinking.”
Baider has received a number of messages of support from journalists on Twitter.
US Public Broadcasting Service special correspondent Jane Ferguson, who is based in Beirut, tweeted: “I am absolutely appalled that respected journalist and fixer from Yemen Ahmed Baider has been denied a visa to the UK after winning a bursary from the Rory Peck Trust to undertake life-saving media security and first aid training.
“Ahmed has worked, at great personal risk, to make sure journalists from British news organisations like ITV News and Sky News get access to cover the devastating war in his country. That the British government have disregarded this baffles and infuriates me.
“Ahmed was also instrumental in reporting done by American outlets like ABC and PBS News Hour. He will continue to work with journalists, but now because of an appalling choice by the British Government, he will do so without medical and safety training.
“Ahmed’s work has been instrumental in much of the reporting done from Yemen. He deserves not only the support of journalists and news organisations that have worked with him, but the viewers too.”
The Guardian’s Emma Graham-Harrison added: “The Foreign Office under Boris Johnson highlighted Yemen’s humanitarian crisis as a priority.
“But we won’t allow journalist Ahmed Baider – whose work is critical to Yemen coverage (across UK media) – to come here for hostile environment training vital to his safety. Awful.”
Monocle magazine’s Beirut correspondent Lizzie Porter added that Baider had been “essential in securing the media coverage of Yemen that there is” and described him as “polite, professional and thorough”.
And Jon Williams, managing director at RTE News in Ireland, said the Government’s decision was “shameful”.
A spokesperson for the Rory Peck Trust said: “If Ahmed is unable to travel to the UK we will try our very best to help him access safety training elsewhere.”
A Home Office spokesperson told Press Gazette: “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.”
Picture: Ahmed Baider