April 22, 2021
My name is Anwar, I am originally from Afghanistan. I left my country in the first week of February 2018 and arrived in the UK the following day. I applied for asylum and I was granted refugee status in early July 2018.
The Family Reunion Process
My family was still in my home country and so I approached the British Red Cross in Leeds to advise me on family reunion. Given the caseload waiting list (of 2-3 months) at the Red Cross, they advised me to go to a private solicitor for help with visa applications. This turned out to be a very frustrating process which took too long and became very stressful. After more than three months, and lots of back and forth exercises with application, they rejected my case and I had to start all over again. This time, a friend helped me to fill in the application forms which took us only a couple of hours. I took the completed forms to another solicitor and it only took two to three weeks to complete the documentation and send the original document to my family.
Once my family got the UK visa, I immediately told the Red Cross (as the visa was only for one month). The British Red Cross were able to make travel arrangements for my family to come over and booked their flights. At the time I had no money, I used the money I saved from benefits to pay the private solicitor who lodged the visa application. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), in co-ordination with the British Red Cross, assisted my family on their journey from my country to the UK. They arrived at Manchester Airport in the late of May 2019. Once they’d landed, the Red Cross had organised for a charity organisation to meet them and help them through customs. I was waiting at the Arrivals Gate. The British Red Cross had provided a minibus (and driver) so that we could travel back to Leeds.
The Impact of Family Separation
Being separated from my family was really hard. I couldn’t concentrate properly. I got depression and received anti-depression medicine and counselling. My wife was pregnant when I left home and she had a difficult pregnancy. She suffered from severe anemia and other pregnancy-related complications. She ended up having a caesarean section and I was unable to be there. It was difficult for me to be without them, but also for them to be without me. Both sides suffered and we were only able to share our sorrows and anxiety with each other by phone. I have five young children, the eldest is now fourteen and the youngest is 18 months. The absence of their father was hard for them. I was worried about them, knowing that they were under threat in my country from the ongoing insecurity and direct threat.
Being apart from my family and leaving my country was hard. It has even caused some psychological issues. Moving to the UK was a big change as the life we had known in our own country suddenly collapsed. I’d had a prestigious position in one of the UN organisations and we’d lived a life of relative luxury. It is worth mentioning the support of Leeds Council in their provision of accommodation; however, it is not child friendly. We have had to adjust to a new life here but at least we are now safe and together. There are no words to describe what it was like to be reunited. We were so happy to be reconnected.
Changing the Current Family Reunion Rules
The policy around refugee family reunion needs to change. It causes too much anxiety and depression, especially for young people. At the time, I was nearly crying. The process is too long and expensive and needs shortening. There should be more help available to refugees and asylum seekers. The organisations working to help people need more support; they need more staff and more money so that they can carry out their work.
The Red Cross has given me so much support. They assisted me in bringing my family over and helped me to claim universal credit and child benefit. They helped me with school enrolment and offered support whilst I waited for my universal credit payment to come through. I really appreciate everything they have done to me. In addition, I would like to thank the DWP for their contribution so far.
I myself have gone through this headache of family separation and so I don’t want others to have to go through what I did.
Concerns with the New Plan for Immigration
The UK government should develop a ‘safer’ route for refugee families to reunite by expanding the existing Family Reunion Rules rather than introducing inhumane and penalizing new immigration rules. Refugees should not be penalized and made to stay separated indefinitely from their loved ones on the basis of the route they arrived to this country to claim asylum. I was forced to flee Afghanistan because of the conflict that continues to destroy the country and the consequent persecution I faced. I made a claim for asylum protection in the UK.
Leaving my wife and children and a promising career in humanitarian work behind me, I first entered the UK by plane on a visa and subsequently because of a change in my personal situation I claimed asylum. The impact of the family separation on my mental wellbeing was enormous. I was feeling suicidal. I now live happily with my family in the UK. My family’s reunification was possible because of the existing refugee family reunion route which I recommend should be further expanded, so that more refugee families are able to live together with their loved ones in the UK.
The new Immigration proposal, if implemented, would further restrict refugees’ access to family reunion by granting asylum seekers a Temporary Protection visa which would then prevent them from settling and force them to stay permanently separated from their families. The UK government should avoid implementing this policy. This policy would discriminate against already traumatised and vulnerable refugees who arrive in the UK through dangerous routes such as by lorry or a boat. These people are forced to take these dangerous routes due to the absence of ‘safer’ routes to reach safety.
The government’s refugee resettlement expansion proposal is good, but I do not think the resettlement programme alone can address the protection and family reunion needs of people fleeing conflicts and human rights persecutions. Because of the absence of safe routes people escaping persecution will continue taking any available routes to reach safety. Refugees should not be penalized on the basis of the route they arrived in the UK. The UK government should expand existing safe routes.