“I don’t know which one to hug first”
Massoud has been in the UK for two years – when he left Iran his wife Mina was pregnant. His daughter Banu was born whilst they were apart and over the last 18 months he’s watched her grow from a baby into a toddler via phone calls, photos and the short video clips Mina and their families sent him. The latest one he has shows Banu giggling as she plays around the security gates at the airport as they leave to join him.
Back home Massoud was an artist earning a living painting commercials for a range of clients. Mina was a hairdresser. After being granted asylum in the UK he immediately applied for his wife and daughter to join him and Mina and Banu were granted visas soon after.
Massoud hopes that in the future he’ll be able to continue his work as an artist and that Mina will also learn English quickly and be able to resume her work.
At the airport Mina and Banu are in good spirits despite the long overnight flights. Even Banu has been learning English words and she’s prompted to respond with ‘thank you’ and calls ‘daddy’ on the car ride home.
When they reach Massoud’s home his friends form a welcoming committee.
Abba ‘s wife and son stayed behind in Khartoum when he came to seek asylum in the UK and have only been in touch over the phone for the past year.
“I am very happy to see them again. I missed my son for the long time I didn’t see him. He is in good health. In the future I want to live with my family in peace away from the war and fighting.”
To the people who’ve donated to us and Miles4Migrants to make Abba’s family reunion possible he says; “I can’t thank you enough.”
Dabir and Faridah were students in their home town in Syria. Dabir also taught English. He travelled to the UK to find safety and they ended up being apart for almost two years. Their only means of keeping in touch during this time was through Whatsapp and other mobile apps.
Dabir got in touch in January when his wife needed assistance to travel to the embassy in Lebanon to collect her visa decision. Unfortunately it was refused. He didn’t have enough income to fund the long and dangerous journeys from Syria and was worried this would prevent her from ever having a successful visa application. Unfortunately we had to turn down a request for assistance due to a lack of funds despite his wife facing urgent need through living in a war zone.
Late in June Dabir got back in touch with good news – the visa had finally been granted but the decision notification had been lost and he had received it very late with less than a week to arrange travel. We were able to fund his wife’s flight from Beirut to the UK.
“My wife’s trip to the UK was very challenging and difficult. She has crossed a lot of Syrian cities there was fighting going on and it was very risky. We were worried very much. We had such a huge deadline and the trip was very dangerous and difficult and expensive because she needed a visa to get to Lebanon too.”
“When she first arrived in London she felt relieved and excited and happy at meeting me and reuniting again in a safe and secure country.”
“We would like to get into an education course and carry on with study when it’s possible.”
An Afghan refugee. Atal has been in the UK for eight years without his family. His wife and children lived in a refugee camp in Pakistan where he was at least able to visit them occasionally. He and his brother established a life for themselves in the UK whilst he worked hard to get visas for his family. Atal’s children had lived all their lives in the camp and knew nothing of ‘normal’ everyday life. In the camp access to education was very limited and there were fears for the family’s safety. When he got in touch Atal was working with his solicitor to apply for visas to his family. He kept us informed through the process and when the visas were issued we were able to book flights quickly. With the family being refugees in Pakistan and having limited rights there were lots of uncertainties around the travel but Atal worked tirelessly to resolve each obstacle that came up and they were able to have an uncomplicated trip when the time came.
“To be honest when I was apart from my family I was very very upset and the life was very difficult. My family’s trip was absolutely pleasant, enjoyable and calm. For now they are OK but they may take more time to settle.
The UK is completely different from the refugee camp in Pakistan when comparing weather, environment, safety and social life. Everything is going well and we can breathe easy because we are safe.
In the future I will do everything for their upcoming future and their education. I will be trying to being my children to have good will to all humanity especially to the public of the UK.
Our god bless you.”
Atal’s son hopes one day to become a doctor and brought his text books from the camp to study on the journey. He managed to put aside his own nervousness about the trip to support his mother, sisters and younger brother on the flight. A family member asked us to pass on this message to the people who have helped them; “When you reunite one family a hundred people thank you.”
Originally from Eritrea, Tesfay had been living alone in the UK whilst his wife Asmarina and son Semere were in Ethiopia. His sole source of income was a bursary giving him an annual income of less than £5000 a year. He applied for visas for his family to join him in the UK but was unable to raise the money for flights and other travel costs in the 30 days the visas were valid. Through our partnership with Miles for Migrants we were able to arrange flights for Tesfay’s family.
“They had an enjoyable and nice trip. They are excited and love the UK. I am excited and happy to live with them. For the moment we don’t know what are plans are for the future but I will let you know later on. Finally I would like to say many thanks for your help.”
Kaden last saw his daughter Alima when she was 12 years old and a child he’d let help him drive by having her change the gears for him. Their life in Iran was very different to the situation they find themselves in now. Kaden lives in the UK and is studying English, he’s been her for 6 years and hopes that soon it will be good enough for him to find work as a fitness instructor. He currently lives in a small carefully decorated flat on a quiet suburban road. It won’t be big enough for both of them but he’s making arrangements to move. In readiness for Alima’s arrival everywhere has been cleaned and there are fruit and sweets laid out on the coffee table. He’s prepared a meal of traditional Iranian dishes for her when they get back from the airport.
They’ve kept in touch through Skype and messaging. It sounds like there have been a lot of tearful phone calls in anticipation of her journey. He hasn’t slept all week in excitement and anxiousness about her trip. ‘There’s lots to do for Alima when she arrives’ he tells me ‘She’s very clever’. She’s finished school in Iran and he plans to enrol her in the college he attends so she can begin learning English quickly. She wants to study Graphics, a course not available for her in their home town but one she should be able to access in the UK.
Children lose their status as a ‘dependent’ family members at 18 and Alima was granted her visa four months before her 18th birthday. If it hadn’t been granted this time she would have lost her right to come to the UK via the family reunion route permanently.
Kaden’s friend joins him for the trip to the airport. They met when she first came to the UK and didn’t have enough English to enrol onto her language course. Kaden was called to come and interpret for her. She’s very excited and comments on the changes he’s been making to the flat.
At the airport we wait nervously by what turns out to be the wrong arrivals exit. Kaden’s friend takes lots of photos and videos of him waiting and he gets embarrassed and pretends to hide behind the flowers he’s brought for Alima. When we spot her there’s a short pause and he approaches her. She immediately starts to cry and they share a long hug. Kaden introduces her to us and she smiles, looking a bit overwhelmed. On the journey back home there’s lots of excited chatting and phone calls being made to friends and relatives.
“I don’t know how to say or what to say because it’s really really helpful and so kind of you.’
Abdou was reunited with his wife and young son this month. He has another older child still waiting on a visa to the UK.
“We had been apart for just over two years and it hasn’t been easy at all. It has been the toughest thing that I have gone through in my life only being able to be in touch via Whatsapp and email. If we hadn’t had any help with my family’s travel to the UK to be honest we would just have had to let the visas go and expire.
I was very happy and excited to see my wife after two years. Her journey was good and she had no problems. Her first impressions were mainly about the weather but she was happy and excited to be here. In September I am going to study Accounting and Finance at Manchester University and my wife will also be going to university so we can contribute to the development of the country.”
I have no words to describe when I first saw them.
I was separated from my family for 12 years. I left my country in September 2004 and exactly 12 years later I am reunited with my son and wife.
I had tried to keep in touch with them more or less when they were in Ethiopia. The internet connection is very weak down there so I was not able to use Viber and free calling methods with ease. Living as a refugee is very tough especially if one has close family back home. Nothing can fill that emptiness that comes from being apart from your family.
Your assistance has come at the right time and I am deeply grateful for it. It would give more time to arrange for the air ticket if the validity of the visa was at least 60 days. When we got the visa we had 25 days and it took 15 days for another charity to tell us they couldn’t provide assistance.
Almost all refugees find it hard to cover the cost of the air ticket especially those with large families. It can be seen from my experience that there is no one to rely on and it would give more time for us to look into options if the visa was longer.
It is unimaginable to lose a visa for lack of transport money.
At last with the assistance of you and other friends I was able to buy the tickets.
My wife and son are fine and well. They always dreamed of a day where we would be reunited. My son is a good age to complete his secondary education. Life back home is difficult especially for single mothers and so it was hard for my wife to raise our son alone.
We have a lot to catch up on in each other’s life, especially for my son who I left when he was three years old hoping everything would be fine.
Abebe wants us to use his words to help with fundraising. He is working and was able to fund two thirds of his family’s flight cost himself. Less than £300 stood between him and losing his family’s visas. Abebe’s job is working with refugees and asylum seekers and he’s aware that in some ways he was lucky compared to others when it came to family reunion. He still faces some challenges; getting his son into school and being able to get appropriate accommodation for his family.
Gulnar was referred to us by a local charity that had helped her apply for a family reunion visa. She had been separated from her two eldest children, Sahar and Pamir for almost three years. Sahar and Pamir, then 11 and 12 were living with a family friend and were able to stay in touch with their mother over the phone.
When Gulnar got her family reunion visa issued she was excited to have her children finally able to join her in the UK. Her youngest child lived with her in the UK and they’d finally be able to be a family again.
“We need to tell you that we have been living without our mum for a long time our mum is everything for us and when she found us and somebody told us that your mum is here and you will go to live with her we thought that it was a joke but then our visa process has been started.” Sahar and Pamir
“As you know that living without or away from your kids is just like a fish without water a body without soul and you feel like you are living with some body parts missing.” Gulnar
We arranged some flights for the children and the family they were staying with began to make arrangements for their trip. Sahar and Pamir had been issued with a 30 day visa meaning they only had this much time to enter the UK or they’d need to reapply. Visas for each child had a slightly different 30 day period meaning that there was only around 20 days overlap where they could travel together.
In the process of making arrangements it emerged that the children were missing a piece of documentation they needed to leave Pakistan. We moved the children’s booking to a later date and supported the family in contacting the relevant authorities to try and get the document. Guidelines said the application for the document took around eight weeks and the children’s visas expired in less than two weeks. Despite everyone’s efforts to get the documents in time the deadline was missed and the children weren’t able to fly.
This meant that their visa expired and they had to remain in Pakistan whilst Gulnar applied for the right documents to be able to leave and reapplied for the entry visa for the UK.
It was the end of May the next year before the visa was reissued and we were able to rebook flights for the children.
The children arrived safely in June and were reunited with their mother and younger siblings at the airport.
“We are feeling like we got our lives back and we have started living with our younger brother and sister and we are very very happy. We are all together now. Wow.” Sahar and Pamir
“I have got my children with me now my life is complete its full now I am free of all stress and anxiety after this reunion.” Gulnar
*Names have been changed to protect our the family’s identity.
Leon is destitute. His wife and three children have had to leave their home and support network. Leon hasn’t seen his children for years but they stay in contact over the phone. These phone calls are really difficult for him as he is here in the UK and his wife and family are still in Cameroon.
His wife sees the UK as a rich country; other people’s husbands who have come here are able to send lots of money home to pay for school, housing and medicine. The neighbours ask why her husband can’t do the same.
Leon has claimed asylum after being tortured in Cameroon. He’s not allowed to work whilst his claim is processed. He had been receiving £36 a week from the Home Office to live off but now his claim has been refused. His accommodation is now provided by a charity and he gets £10 to live on from them.
Compared to others in a similar situation in the UK Leon’s situation is pretty desperate although he is receiving some counselling to help him deal with what he’s been through. When he speaks to his wife on the phone she asks him to send money. He does, saving up each week to send £10 or £20 at a time. This leaves him with no money for food but he wants to provide for his children.
Leon wants to get refugee status in the UK and this would give his family the right to join him here. But he feels a lot of guilt about not being able to provide for his family and sometimes the pressure is so much he struggles to speak to them on the phone. If he breaks off contact it will make it much more difficult for his family to join him here in the future as he will need to prove they have maintained the relationship whilst separated.
Leon’s situation isn’t unique but to him it feels like he’s on his own. Many of the clients who use our family reunion have faced similar struggles. Many have had to spend years proving their case to be reunited with their loved ones. Whilst this situation drags out parents are missing precious time with their children. In some cases children turn 18 and are no longer considered dependent and eligible for reunion.
Our family support programme pilot meant Leon was able to send some money to his family. This went on real essentials for his family’s day to day life and allowed him to have some positive contact with them. Whilst in the pilot Leon had, for a short while, something else to think about other than his own struggle.
The evaluation of this project showed that the intervention can make a real difference both in the long and short term. We thank Awards for All for letting use a small amount of our grant to test this idea and we will be working hard to secure future funding.