July 21, 2020
My name is Merhawi, I am unaccompanied young refugee originally from Eritrea. I fled my origin country, when I was 14 years old, in June 2016 to avoid forceful military conscription. At the time I was not attending school due to personal health problems. The authorities who saw this instructed me to attend military service which had frightened me and my family. I was therefore forced to leave behind my family – sister, 2 brothers and my mother, and home and together with colleagues from my village I travelled to Sudan and from there through the Sarah Desert to Libya.
In Libya I was in prison for about 1 year. My time in Libya was torturous and difficult where I experienced many abuses and witnessed things I would not like to say now. Luckily a relative paid the ransom and I travelled via the Mediterranean Sea to Italy and from Italy to France where I spent some time in Calais. I entered the UK in September 2018 through the UK children’s transfer scheme from Europe and since then I have been under the care of the Social Services.
The Impact of Family Separation
It took me 2 torturous years to arrive to a safe place, the UK and throughout this period I did not have any news about my family. I was getting worried about them and at the same time I was experiencing life threatening situations. The situation in Libya in particular was horrifying and I can still recall the abuses I experienced at night in my dreams. My worries about my family has increased since I arrived in the UK; I think this has to be because I arrived in a safe place. I am unable to concentrate on my studies and when I go home, I always think about them and at night I do not sleep. If my mother was here with me, I could have slept well and could have led a relaxed life like any other young person in the UK. Until few months ago I did not have contacts with my mother and siblings.
Since I arrived in the UK I tried to find information about their situation but unfortunately the phone I had for them was not working. I was also getting unconfirmed information that my mother and siblings might have fled Eritrea and crossed to Ethiopia. I then contacted the British Red Cross if they could help me to trace my family. I remember being invited to the Red Cross Office to get the outcome of the trace. They brought me a letter from my mother with news that she and my 2 brothers, both younger than me, are in Ethiopia in a refugee camp. She did not say what happened to my younger sister and when I phoned my mother, I was told my sister is back in Eritrea in a monastery.
My worries have now reduced relatively and I am happy because at least I have contacted them, and I know where they are. I cannot say they are safe and secure; they are in a refugee camp and refugees in Ethiopia. My life is unstable, and I feel lonely and remain separated from my family.
Changing the Current Family Reunion Rules
I was granted refugee status in 2019 and it has been about 4 years since I got separated from my family. I get support from the Social Services, but they cannot replace the love I could get from my family. I want to live together with my family in the UK. I asked a solicitor at the Red Cross for help with family reunion. My mother is unwell and when she was in Eritrea she used to complain about her health, I always get worried of her situation. But I was told that I cannot sponsor my mother and siblings under the existing UK Family Reunion laws, and I do not meet the relevant criteria to use other immigration routes.
I feel the UK family reunion laws are unfair; I have refugee status, but I cannot sponsor my close family members. Life is tough and difficult without family. I do not have peace of mind and I constantly worry about my future and my family. If my mother and siblings were here with me in the UK, I could have peace of mind, settlement and a clear plan for my future. It is difficult to have a stable life without a family. I am sharing my story, a story full of suffering and difficulties, with the hope it will be used to change the restrictive family reunion laws in the UK. I hope people in government understand through my story how difficult it is to be a young refugee and be separated from loved ones.