Helen’s Story

April 22, 2021

My name is Helen. I experienced human trafficking and I arrived alone in the UK in July 2015 from Cameroon. I was able to receive asylum fairly quickly and was granted refugee status in November 2015.

The Family Reunion Process

Since the day I left home I was getting worried of my family and when I was granted asylum, I wanted immediately to reunite with my children but I did not know how. The British Red Cross was able to give me some practical support, with regards to food, clothing and assistance with filling in forms, however I was not aware (until one of their workers told me) that they could possibly support me in bringing my children over from Cameroon. It was the first time that I had been separated from my children and I was very sad. I felt completely alone.

The British Red Cross opened my family reunion case and helped me to obtain visas for my 3 children, book flights, organize vaccines and identify someone who could accompany my children on the plane. I took on part-time work to be able to pay for their passports and vaccines. It took me around one year to raise the funds. My children arrived at Manchester airport in December 2016. I hired a minibus to pick them up. It was an unforgettable moment, almost like a dream. Everyone was crying and it was such a mix of emotions. I had been apart from my children for two years and they had changed a lot in this time.

The Impact of Family Separation

When my children arrived, they were 17, 15 and 9 years old. I was able to sponsor them because they were all under 18. However, my family was split up as I had to leave my elderly mother in Cameroon and my two older sons. Another of my sons is in Belgium. It has been six years since I have seen my other children. My oldest son met a woman and they had a child, a little girl. The mother was unable to look after her and so I took her in. She is named after me and became like my own daughter.

When I left Cameroon, my mother took care of my younger children and my little granddaughter. They grew up together and are all very close. Because she is not my biological daughter, I am not able to sponsor her to come here. And my other sons are 30, 28 and 25 years old. They are over 18 so I cannot bring them here under the current rules on family reunion. Having to leave my little granddaughter behind was traumatic both for her, and for me and my other children. She is very distressed, and my mother is struggling to look after her in her old age.

Being reunited with my children has helped me to rebuild my life here in the UK. I am happier but my happiness is not complete because my family remains divided and that is very difficult for us. A family is a family in its entirety, and it should not be split up. The situation in Cameroon is very difficult because of the fighting and insurgencies. I want my family to live together here in the UK.

I am grateful for the British Red Cross for helping me in reuniting with my children. As the VOICES Ambassador for Families Together I want to help in any way I can to make family reunion easier for other families to reunite. I am sharing my story with the hope it inspires and influences the public and decision-makers to support family reunion.