Abba’s story

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

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.”

 

 

Kaden’s story

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’s story

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.”

Briefing note: Extension needed to 30 day entry limit on visas for refugee family reunion

Introduction

We are asking that UK entry visas granted to the families of refugees living in the UK to allow them to exercise their right to family reunion are made valid for 6 months rather than the current 30 days.

This briefing sets out the problems we have encountered with the 30 day UK entry visas granted for family members joining refugees and the action the Government could take to improve the rules for family reunion. We’ve also provided a real scenario written by one of our clients and the challenges he encountered with his wife and son being issued a 30 day entry visa.

Problems with the immigration rules for refugee family reunion

Currently when individuals are granted refugee status in the UK they can apply to sponsor their dependent family members to join them in the UK. Once the application is approved the family are granted 30 day entry visas to travel to the UK. They right to stay in the UK is linked to their sponsor’s refugee status.

In our experience the rules dictating the length of entry visas cause huge problems for refugees living in the UK trying to be reunited with their loved ones.

The tight time restriction on the visa is an issue for vulnerable refugees because:

  • Refugees don’t have money for travel readily available.

Many refugees don’t have the hundreds of pounds ready to fund travel for family members. Our client ‘Eraivan’, a Tamil who fled Sri Lanka after being tortured by the authorities, didn’t have enough money to fund travel for his wife and two children after obtaining the 30 day visa, as they had spent all their savings on travelling to and from Columbo for appointments with the visa office. The cost of the flights for the family was over £1600 and additional funds were needed to get them to and from the airport safely. Refugees and torture survivors in particular don’t have networks of friends and relatives that allow them to easily borrow money. Without Together Now, they would not have been able to be reunited. Read more about ‘Eraivan’ here.

  • Making travel arrangement is not always straightforward.

For many families, they are still living in a war zone, sometimes in hiding – it’s not easy to simply jump on the next flight. Thirty days sometimes isn’t enough time for the UK refugee to gather together the funds for travel and allow their family to get safely to an airport for travel. This was the case for our Syrian client’s wife ‘Noura’ – because of the time limit of thirty days to the visa, she had only a week to travel from Syria to Beirut, the closest operating airport. She only just managed the journey over land, which she made alone. Read more about ‘Noura’ here.

  • Other documentation for travel can take than 30 days to obtain.
    This was the case for our client ‘Gulnar’. She had been separated from her two children for three years – after getting 30 day visas for them, she found out that Pakistan needed documentation for them to leave the country which took eight weeks to process. This delayed the family’s reunion, leaving the 11 and 12 year olds living in Pakistan without their mother for six months until a new visa could be obtained. Read more about ‘Gulnar’ here.

The tight time restrictions on the visas are an issue for us because:

  • It raises our costs unnecessarily

On average we pay £450 per person traveling. When we only have a short time period to book in this often ends up being more – sometimes double. As a small organisation this has a serious impact on how many families we are able to help.

  • It puts clients at unnecessary risk

Our clients’ families are often themselves leaving unsafe or uncertain circumstances and them coming to the UK is important in keeping them safe. The risks of making the trip are far outweighed by the benefits. Despite this it is a risky journey and having to rush arrangements or people travelling on their ‘last chance’ (the day before their visa expires) reduces our options and ability to help them make the safest choices about their travel.

We also believe that this system results in families being forced to reapply unnecessarily creating additional work and expense for the Home Office.

For these above reasons, we believe the length of visas granted for family reunion should be extended to 6 months or up until the expiration of the refugee status of the sponsor if this is shorter. This would give refugees a better chance to find the money for travel for their families, and would also give their families more time to travel to the UK safely.

If this proposal is not acceptable we would like to understand the reasons behind this and investigate other options for extension being made available.

An example of the challenges 30 day visas present: ‘Abebe’, a Together Now client

Abebe’s story is typical of many of our clients. 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.

I was separated from my family for 12 years. 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.

Read Abebe’s story in full on our website here.

Download full briefing note here.