‘They want to send my children to a war zone’

Wael Khalaf and his wife May El Sharfa, daughter Abeer and son Ahmed
Wael Khalaf and his wife May El Sharfa, daughter Abeer and son Ahmed

A distraught family are facing the prospect of having to leave behind the safety of Chesterfield for Iraq or Libya.

Wael Khalaf, 45, his wife May El Sharfa, 46, and their two children Abeer, 13, and Ahmed, eight, have lived in this country since 2009.

The family's children Abeer and Ahmed

The family's children Abeer and Ahmed

Last year, Wael applied to settle the family here permanently but - as his net pay was less than £65,000 per year - he did not meet the strict Home Office criteria.

Immediately after his application was refused, Chesterfield-based engineering firm, Fusion, where Wael worked as a senior manager, were forced to let him go.

After that he had his passport and driving licence taken away, and has found it incredibly difficult to find the family a place to stay.

His family are now facing up to the prospect of life in Iraq or Libya - where war and terrorism are a part of people’s daily lives.

Wael Khalaf and his wife May El Sharfa, daughter Abeer and son Ahmed

Wael Khalaf and his wife May El Sharfa, daughter Abeer and son Ahmed

He said: “I could have applied for asylum for the last eight years, but I chose not to because I want to work.

“I have paid £8,000 in tax just last year. I want to work and help society by paying taxes - I don’t want to claim for asylum.”

Since he lost his job, the family have been forced to live off what savings they have - savings that will soon run out.

To makes matters worse, during this time Wael’s father - who himself was imprisoned and tortured by Saddam Hussein - passed away.

Wael Khalaf and his wife May El Sharfa

Wael Khalaf and his wife May El Sharfa

However, as Wael did not have a passport, he was unable to attend the funeral at his mother’s side.

“Why would you stop someone from working to help his family,” said May.

“They want to know everything about you but they don’t treat you like a human being - only like a piece of paper.”

Wael and May met in Libya before coming to the UK, originally for Wael to study.

Wael Khalaf and his wife May El Sharfa

Wael Khalaf and his wife May El Sharfa

After getting his masters’ degree from the University of Greenwich, Wael started work for a British company in Kent before moving to Chesterfield in 2015.

The family currently rent a house on the new Portlands housing estate just off Sheffield Road in Stonegravels, in addition to owning a home down south.

For most of his time in the UK, he has been on a ‘Tier 1’ visa for highly skilled migrants - but last year applied for indefinite leave to remain.

However in October, he received the terrible news that his application had been unsuccessful and was given just 14 days to leave the country.

The couple find it difficult to understand what is happening to them, but it is their kids they are most worried about.

“Where we come from is not safe,” says Wael.

“We need to see our kids growing up in a healthy environment.”

“My brothers in Baghdad say that when they go out to work they cannot guarantee they will come back safe.

“It is the centre of ISIS, every day you have bombs there.

“My brother was killed in the sectarian war in 2007.

“He was pulled from his house while he was having lunch with his wife and kids.”

May says the impact the change would have on her children’s future would be devastating.

“I don’t want to have to take them to an unsafe country,” she says.

“It will completely destroy their future.

“Also, they would have a completely different education system.

“When I moved from Egypt to Libya with my family I struggled for two years and that was to a place with the same language.

“Abeer is in Year 9, she has never studied in Arabic, she won’t be able to cope with studying there.

“I don’t want to see my children suffer like I did.”

“Ahmed’s Arabic is not good - he was only nine months old when he came here,” says Wael.

“Now he is in Year 4 - should they just deport him?”

Sitting in politely on the conversation is 13-year-old Abeer, who currently attends Henry Fanshawe School in Dronfield.

She says she is ‘annoyed, irritated and sad’ at the way the family is being treated and is worried about losing the friends she has made in England if they have to leave.

She enjoys her school and is doing well, as is eight-year-old Ahmed, who attends Gorseybrigg Primary School in Dronfield. Both children have been given glowing reports by their respective schools, imploring the Home Office to let them stay.

The family must now nervously await the outcome of a new application, despite the process having cost them £15,000 in fees already.