All Hallows tries to stop deportation of Syrian activist

All Hallows, Leeds has launched a campaign to halt the deportation of a women's-rights activist from Syria, and her husband, who are seeking asylum in the UK.

Members of the congregation at All Hallows' led a demonstration this week outside an immigration centre in Leeds, in support of Raja Khouja and her husband, Mahmoud Alhassan, who have been part of their community for more than four years.

Vicar of All Hallows, Revd Heston Groenewald, says, "95000 people signed the petition and our protests worked, as they've been granted a judicial review, rather than immediate deportation. So while they are by no means out of the woods, it's good news for now. " 

Ms Khouja, who is 56, fears for her life if the Home Office goes ahead with plans to deport them to her husband's home country Saudi Arabia. She says that her work, trying to improve the status of women in the Arab world, has put her in direct conflict with the Saudi Mutawa - the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. She has received emails and phone calls threatening death, imprisonment, and mutilation if she enters Saudi.

She and Mr Alhassan, aged 67, were holidaying in Britain in 2010 when the Syrian civil war flared up, making return to their home in Damascus impossible. They have been seeking asylum in the UK since 2011, but the Home Office has rejected the threats against her as being hearsay.

Sarah Fishwick, who, with her husband Robin works with the church-led Leeds Asylum Seekers Support Network, says: "Raja and Mahmoud came to us as part of the Great Hosting Scheme, in which people give a night's stay to destitute asylum-seekers who are homeless, but they stayed for over a year. Despite being Muslims, they came with us to All Hallows' fairly regularly. People in the church know them and love them. We are praying that we will get a positive resolution to this."

The Executive Secretary of the West Yorkshire Ecumenical Council, the Revd Dr Clive Barrett, has urged people to email the Home Secretary, and Qatar Airlines, which is scheduled to return the couple to the Middle East. He said: "We call on the Home Office to stop the removal, release them from detention, and give them leave to remain until they are safe to return to their home, Syria. They are much loved and respected here. We are gravely concerned for Raja's safety were she to be removed to Saudi Arabia."

Sending a message from Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre, near Bedford, Raja said, "I thank everybody who has spoken out for me from the bottom of my heart. God bless you and God bless the people of Britain. Britain is a democratic country where there is justice and human rights and people can speak out for what they believe in as you have just shown by doing it for me. My dream is that one day we will be able to do the same across the Arab world."

A Home Office spokeswoman declined to comment on their case.

More information on Friends of Raja and Mahmoud Facebook page.

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