Aziza Rashid’s Story
April 22, 2021
Originally, I am from the Congo DRC and came to the UK as a refugee in June 2016. I, my parents, my three brothers, and my sister migrated to Burundi in 1998 because of the conflict in Congo DRC. Many people were getting sick and dying in refugee camps in Burundi. Because of this my family was staying in the city and we had a difficult time supporting ourselves. My mother had a small business that supported our livelihoods. UNHCR registered all Congo DRC refugees living in Burundi in 2014. My health was bad and together with my family (parents, 2 brothers and 2 sisters, and my two children) I was resettled to the UK in June 2016. My husband, because he was not in the resettlement application, did not come to the UK with us. We had to leave him in Burundi; and my other brother was missing and was later traced by BRC in in Uganda. Because of his age we are unable to sponsor my brother to live with us in the UK.
The Impact of Family Separation
When I arrived in the UK, I found life without my husband to be extremely difficult, although I was thankful for the protection the UK government gave us. I was on my own with two young children and had bad health. My siblings and parents who came with me to the UK had their own challenges, families and worries. My sister’s husband was in Burundi as well. I was constantly getting worried and depressed and eventually I developed a heart problem.
The organisation which was supporting us in the UK during the first year of resettlement was unable to provide me with advice on how I can reunite with my husband. I did not know if I was able to reunite again with my husband. One day my mother visited the BRC refugee support project locally in Bradford to enquire about tracing my missing bother who was later traced by BRC in Uganda. The project also referred my sister and I to a BRC project which eventually enabled us to reunite with our husbands.
The Family Reunion Process
The reunification process took about 3 years in total. I approached the BRC in Jan/ Feb 2017 but because of the long waiting time in the project, and my worsening health. I decided to approach a private solicitor and agreed instalment payments to help me submit the visa application. But the solicitor dropped my case as my husband did not have a passport to be able to travel to the UK Embassy in Rwanda to submit the application form in person. Frustrated by the delay and complication of the case, I travelled back to Burundi to see my husband in mid-2017 and our third child was conceived. When I returned to the UK, I did not know what to do and had to return to the BRC to check if they could help me. I was fortunate that the team told me I was due to be seen by the family reunion officer to start the process.
BRC lodged the application, also contacted the Congo DRC Embassy in Burundi regarding my husband’s travel document and arranged the appointment with the UK Embassy in Rwanda. He travelled to Rwanda three times: to attend the application submission appointment, to do the TB test, and then to collect his visa. He did the DNA test in Burundi, but he had to travel to Rwanda for TB test as the facility was not available in Burundi. I had to save money from the benefits I was getting to cover the cost of his transport, accommodation, and the TB test. Rwanda is expensive country, and this brought additional financial pressure to my family. The BRC connected me with another charity that helped to cover the cost of the DNA test.
Changing the Current Family Reunion Rules
My husband arrived in the UK in July 2019. The family reunion visa granted to him was for 30 days only and within this short time he had to travel to Rwanda to collect the visa, and then prepare for his flight to come to the UK. The 30 days was not enough time for us as a family to plan his flight to the UK. At the time, I had no money and had to contact family and friends if they could help with the flight cost, but none was able to help. At last a friend told me that I should approach the BRC for help. I am so grateful that again BRC helped my husband to purchase the flight ticket and made the reunion possible. I feel the family reunion process is complex for refugees like myself who have limited English to understand, is risky to cross borders in Africa, and costly.
The UK government has the power to change the policy for refugee families to live together. If it were not for the BRC I would have not been able to reunite with my husband.
Concerns with the New Plan for Immigration
I was resettled to the UK via a refugee resettlement programme from Burundi. I sponsored my husband through the UK’s existing Family Reunion Rules. The resettlement and the family reunification process were both extremely difficult. Resettlement programmes do not work effectively as the UK Government’s new Immigration proposal tries to make it appear. Many refugees remain indefinitely in refugee camps, and even those who are lucky to enter the UK find family reunification services often difficult to access. I do not think the proposed refugee resettlement programme is genuine in its claim to provide a safe and legal route to the UK. Access to asylum protection and refugee family reunion services are already difficult in the UK. The UK government instead should expand and improve the existing safe family reunion route.