Yemenis in spotlight

THE Yemeni community is Britain's oldest established Muslim community, and Sheffield's current population of around 3,500 is one of the largest in the country. A new exhibition at Weston Park Museum will explore the stories of Yemeni migration and how these are linked with the shared histories of Britain and Yemen

Photographs taken over the past 25 years by documentary photographer Tim Smith will be exhibited alongside archive material, oral histories and items of personal significance, such as passports, books and clothing, including objects on loan from the British Museum as well as items provided by members of the Yemeni community.

His photographs taken along the ancient incense and spice routes in Yemen will show its trading role at the crossroads between Arabia, Africa, Europe and the Far East.

Pictures of the port of Aden will show how it became a vital part of the British Empire, refuelling coal-fired ships on their way to India and beyond, and how Yemeni sailors began the process of migration to Britain by joining the British Merchant Navy.

Photos taken in the UK will explore the development of Yemeni communities in this country, with a particular focus on Sheffield since the early 1950s.

The exhibition will document the journeys people made and their subsequent lives, exploring notions of home and belonging and what their past and future means to them.

One example is Ali Muhammad Saied. In 1952 he went to see an agent in Aden, who "made me a passport, gave me a loan, bought me a big suit and took me to a big ship. Me and nine other men travelled to Marseille…and then to Sheffield. I got a job at Hallamshire Steel and lived in a house with 12 other men". He retired back to Yemen in 2002 and is pictured at home in Thi Sura earlier this year.

The history of the Yemeni community in Britain can be traced back to the 1880s when sailors began to arrive in ports such as Liverpool, Cardiff, Newport and South Shields.

It was the first Arab community and one of the first ethnic groups to settle in the UK. The pioneering sailors were followed in the 1950s and 60s by labour migrants encouraged to come to fill gaps in the industrial sector. Many worked in the steel and engineering industries, at companies such as Sheffield's Firth Brown and Dunford Hadfields.

After the civil war in Yemen in 1994, this population grew rapidly with the arrival of Yemeni refugees seeking to join friends and relatives and an established community of support in the UK.

Coal, Frankincense and Myrrh: Yemen and British Yemenis opens at Weston Park Museum on Saturday and continues until April 13.