April 22, 2021
My name is Justin Ndakize and I come from Congo (DRC). I left the DRC in 2004 due to the war and I was granted refugee status in Burundi. In 2018, I was able to leave Burundi with my mother and sister through the UNHCR refugee resettlement programme. I arrived in the UK on 19th September 2018. I already had refugee status and so I did not have to apply for asylum.
The Impact of Family Separation
I was married but I had to leave my wife in Burundi. She was seven months pregnant. Even though I knew she was safe and able to support herself, it was very difficult being apart from her. Every day, when I rang my wife in Africa, she used to cry and I felt bad. Every time when I phoned we both cried; it was bad and unhappy time. I did not have peace of mind, stability, focus in my college studies and I was struggling to plan my life.
I needed to know how I could bring her to the UK so I went to a drop-in at Horton House in Bradford on 15th October 2015. The meeting was led by a British Red Cross worker who supports refugees in a similar situation to myself. They told me to wait for another couple of months until the baby was born and then apply for their visas. But there were complications with her pregnancy and the baby died. I was so sad and distressed that my wife had to deal with this alone. She had support from her neighbors, and the Red Cross in Burundi was able to give her some counselling, but it was not the same as me being there. Me too, I was crying.
The Family Reunion Process
The British Red Cross helped me to apply for a visa for my wife. In Burundi, there is no UK embassy so my wife had to travel to the embassy in Rwanda to complete her documentation. In Africa, if you are granted refugee status in a particular country, you are not allowed to travel to a different country, so it is very difficult to travel across borders. The British Red Cross were able to get in touch with the Red Cross in Burundi and they were able to support my wife with this. I could not pay for her flight so an organization in London helped me with this.
My wife arrived in the UK on 11th June 2019. I took a taxi to Manchester airport with a friend from Bradford. I was so excited and very happy, really really happy. It is difficult to describe. It was very emotional. When she saw me, she cried. We were worried that this would never happen. We didn’t know how long it would take to be together again – it could have been two, three or even five years. We were separated for nine months but when you are apart, it feels like much longer. I have friends here who have been trying to bring their families over for years. It is difficult to be without your family and to plan.
Changing the Current Family Reunion Rules
The application process for family reunion is very difficult. When I arrived here, I did not speak English well and needed a translator in meetings with the British Red Cross. Sometimes I didn’t attend meetings because of the language difficulties. My father is still in Africa and my mother came with me through the UNHCR resettlement and she wants to bring him over here. But she does not speak very good English or French, and she can’t speak Swahili in the UK so it is very difficult for her and my family without our father. The Family Reunion application process is complicated and needs to be simpler. There needs to be more funding available because the British Red Cross cannot help everyone. I have many friends here who have tried to go through the application process by themselves but it is difficult and takes a very long time.
Since my wife came to the UK my life has changed and I am able to plan and have focus in life. I am now working part-time at a hotel in Bradford and I have applied for another job at East Side. I am taking driving lessons to help with my employment. I also study at college to improve my English. When my wife first arrived, she felt very depressed. Being alone had been very difficult for her. I started taking her to college with me and now she is much better. We are now expecting a baby and are looking to move to another house.