Britain is set to sign an agreement with Yemen's government granting Yemeni Jews sanctuary within its borders, the Independent reported Wednesday.
The report said Britain had approached Yemen with the offer following reports of the persecution of Jews by Islamic Shiite groups and al-Qaeda's increasing dominance there.
The Foreign Office in London has been conducting covert negotiations in recent months, which terminated with an agreement according to which 20-30 Jewish Yemeni families with British relatives will receive refugee status in the UK, the Independent reported.
The decision is unprecedented, as the British government generally refuses to give sanctuary to migrants simply because they have relatives living there. The families will receive permits to visit their relatives for three months and, once inside the country, will be eligible for refugee status.
Foreign Office officials refused to confirm the report on the grounds that they were not permitted to discuss new government policy in the month prior to general elections, to take place May 6. But officials at the British Embassy in Sana'a claim they have already begun informing the Jews, who live in Raida, about the deal.
"The UK will allow the Raida Jews with UK ties to leave, but it's important that they don't officially leave the country as refugees," one anonymous source told the Independent.
"They have brokered a deal with the Yemenis and agreed to keep this low profile." Another source was quoted as saying that "we haven't signed off on everything quite yet but we're nearly there."
A few hundred Jews still reside in Yemen, where consistent persecution culminating in the murder of a Jewish teacher last December has already prompted the US to organize a special mission which flew dozens of Yemeni Jews into the country.