April 22, 2021
Yaser is a Syrian refugee, who came to the UK in August 2018 as an asylum seeker. ”In 2010 I moved to Saudi Arabia from Syria and got married to my wife. We were living in Mecca at the time, and because of the conflict in Syria we were unable to return to our country of origin. My mother (73 years), father (72 years), mother and father in-law, and brother all were living with us in Saudi Arabia. Life in Saudi Arabia was expensive and difficult, forcing me to come to the UK as an Asylum Seeker in August 2018.”
He was reunited with his wife and three young children (now 8, 6 and 4 years old) after 8 months of family separation. His family was in Saudi Arabia when he came to the UK and started the family reunion visa application. Their application took only 10 – 12 weeks to be processed, the family did not do the DNA and TB tests, and they were given a 30-days visa. Yaser says his reunification process was quick and he feels very lucky as he knows friends who had to wait for years to reunite with their family.
The Family Reunion Process
I was supported by a network of friends in the UK to lodge the family reunion visa application. My wife travelled from Mecca to Jeddah to attend a visa application interview with the UK Embassy. My family is extremely lucky; the application only took around 12 weeks to be processed. They were granted a 30-days visa – at which point I had to borrow money from friends in order to purchase their flight tickets to the UK.
The Impact of Family Separation
However, despite the reunification process being relatively quick, the impact of 8 months family separation was terrible for the family. The children found it difficult to cope in the absence of their father. The youngest child lost his speech due to the separation, and even after their reunion it took a long time for the children to get used to their father. Yaser was like a stranger to his children. When their mother went out for shopping or other family matters, the children did not want to be left alone with their father.
My family had to pay a surcharge tax to the Saudi Government as they were staying in the country as foreigners. Rent and living costs were also expensive. I had to borrow money from people to cover their expenses. The financial pressure and the emotional effect of my absence therefore had a huge impact on both myself and my family – to the extent that my children saw me as a stranger when they arrived in the UK. They often cried when their mum left the house, for example to go shopping, as it took them a long time to get connected to me as their father. This experience in turn impacted my wellbeing.
Changing the Current Family Reunion Rules
The experience of family separation has been difficult for my family, even though our application was processed within a relatively short period of time. The support from friends to lodge the application, and exemption from doing the DNA and TB tests are some of the factors that I think made the process short. Upon their arrival, my wife and I, alongside our three young children, all lived in a single bedroom. It took us two weeks to be moved to a suitable property. The British Red Cross helped my family with vouchers and assisted us in applying for benefits during the transition period. My wife now attends the BRC Family Reunion Integration Service.
Despite being reunited, we still feel like part of our family is in Saudi Arabia. My elderly parents – who are in their seventies- and my in-laws are still in Saudi Arabia. Neither the refugee family reunion rule nor other immigration visitor routes allow for our family to visit us here in the UK.