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UK Foreign Office accused of blocking Bahraini activist’s citizenship bid

Sayed Alwadaei has waited over three years for a decision, with the Foreign Office warning the Home Office of possible cracks in London-Manama relations
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei has been stateless since Bahrain stripped him of his nationality in 2015 (Moosa Mohamed)
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei has been stateless since Bahrain stripped him of his nationality in 2015 (Moosa Mohamed)

A Bahraini human rights defender in exile in the UK has accused the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) of unlawfully obstructing his British citizenship application for three years.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, a Bahraini dissident and advocacy director at the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), has been in exile since 2012 after fleeing the government of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and being granted refugee status in the UK.

Alwadaei has been stateless since 2015, when the Bahraini government stripped him of his nationality. But he has indefinite leave to remain in the UK and applied for citizenship in May 2021. 

The application process usually takes a maximum of six months. However, the Home Office, responsible for visa and citizenship applications in the UK, has yet to make a decision.

The Foreign Office appears to have advised against granting citizenship in undisclosed communications, citing potential strain on UK-Bahrain relations.

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"The UK is my home after fleeing torture and imprisonment in Bahrain. But enduring over three years of scandalous delays to receive a decision on my citizenship application, despite meeting all legal requirements, has been a nightmare,” Alwadaei told Middle East Eye. 

“To discover that these delays have been mainly imposed by the UK Foreign Office, driven by fears of jeopardising relations with Bahrain, is shocking.”

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Bahrain is an ally of the UK government. In July, Bahrain was removed from the UK's list of human rights priority countries, prompting condemnation from rights groups who said the decision amounted to whitewashing. The removal came days after Manama pledged to invest £1bn ($1.26bn) in Britain. 

According to Alwadaei, a disclosure from a Subject Access Request revealed that the Foreign Office attempted to block the Home Office from granting him citizenship despite meeting all the legal requirements. 

The disclosure shows that the FCDO sent two notes, in August 2022 and March 2023, warning the Home Office against granting Alwadaei citizenship on the basis of “bilateral implications” and “good character” and that the threat of public exposure caused them to back down. 

The internal documents seen by Middle East Eye suggest the Foreign Office feared being discovered in legal proceedings if Alwadaei challenged a rejection.

In April 2023, the FCDO asked the Home Office: “If the HO were to deny the application and S[ayed] went to appeal it through the courts, would the FCDO’s formal advice be permissible as a part of any proceedings? Is there a significant risk that FCDO advice will be made public?”

In response, the Home Office informed the FCDO, “With or without [the] Foreign Secretary’s views on the matter, the HO position is that S[ayed] meets all of the statutory requirements for citizenship and there are no grounds to refuse the application under HO policy instructions.”

The Foreign Office did not respond to MEE's request for comment, saying questions about Alwadaei's case should instead be addressed to the Home Office.

A spokesperson for the Home Office told MEE: "It is longstanding government policy that we do not routinely comment on individual cases."

'Rewarding abusive states'

Alwadaei noted that the FCDO appeared to drop its objection on 20 July 2023, stating it was “happy for this to go to the Home Office with no formal representations made by the FS”.  

However, Alwadaei has yet to receive a decision.

'The Foreign Office should seek to advance human rights when dealing with abusive states'

- Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei

He is set to challenge the Foreign Office for full disclosure of the Subject Access Request.

The Home Office has missed multiple deadlines and said that it would make a decision by 13 June 2024.  However, on 12 June, the Home Office sent a similarly worded holding email requesting another extension. 

Alwadaei’s lawyers have threatened to initiate legal proceedings against the Home Office after issuing an ultimatum to make a decision or provide a clear timeline by 17 June.

“The Foreign Office should seek to advance human rights when dealing with abusive states, not reward those states by making the lives of human rights defenders, they have forcibly exiled and rendered stateless, more difficult,” Alwadaei told MEE.

“All I ask for is to be treated in accordance with the law."

Daniel Carey, a lawyer at Deighton Pierce Glynn representing Alwadaei, said the decision should not require legal proceedings, but the three-year delay has made court action inevitable.

“My client will argue this delay is unlawful and it will require very good reasons to defend such a claim,” he told MEE.

“‘Bilateral concerns associated with the Bahrain government are not a good reason. Indeed, they raise troubling questions about the extent to which foreign persecution of human rights activists is permitted to interfere in the UK government’s own immigration decisions."

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