Wales

Family's struggle to safely free son from Yemen prison

Robert Cummings and Jane Lawrence
Image caption Luke's mother Jane said the uncertainty of his whereabouts is "breaking" the family

The mother of a political prisoner in Yemen, accused of being a British spy, has said the family faces continuing setbacks to free him.

Luke Symons, 27, from Cardiff has been held without charge in a political prison in Yemen for the last two years.

While his family has been told he can be released, his mother Jane Lawrence said they do not know how to get him out of the war-torn country safely.

She said her son risks being kidnapped by a rival group if he leaves prison.

Luke converted to Islam in his late teens - taking the name Jamal, before moving to Yemen, where he married his Yemeni wife Tagreed. They have a young son.

Two years ago, when he presented his British passport to withdraw money to fund his family's passage out of Yemen, Luke was arrested.

Image caption Luke Symons - now known as Jamal - on his wedding day in Yemen
Image caption Luke with his baby son Hoode

His family in Cardiff says the Houthi rebels holding Luke in the capital city of Sanaa, will release him if he is escorted out by the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC).

Yemen is currently engulfed by a civil war that has claimed thousands of lives. Many routes are unsafe for travel and the family has been told the only safe route out of Sanaa is via neighbouring Djibouti.

But Luke and his wife were badly treated in Djibouti when they previously tried to get out through that port in 2015, his family said.

They added that it was because of that experience, Luke and his wife felt they had no option but to go back to Yemen, despite the prevailing advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to leave.

The family said it would be unsafe for Luke to be taken back to Djibouti now as there was no British consular presence.

They have set up their own fundraising appeal to cover flights, hotels and insurance costs involved in getting the family out, and a visa application for Luke's wife.

Ms Lawrence said when she was told Luke's name had been cleared she "couldn't believe it".

Image caption At least 6,800 civilians have been killed and 10,700 injured in the civil war in Yemen, according to the UN

"But then all of a sudden we had all these hurdles to get over. Where were they going to take him? How were we going to cover the costs? It just feels like it is never ever ending."

Ms Lawrence said it would be "a dream" to see the family back in Cardiff.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has raised Luke's case on his recent trip to Yemen, offering to "continue to exert every effort we can to try and find a way to get him home".

The ICRC told BBC Wales they were aware of Luke's case but could not comment for confidential reasons.

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