10,000 people separated by conflict and persecution have been reunited with their family in the UK under the British Red Cross and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) family reunion programme. The programme supports people to travel once they have been granted a family reunion visa by the UK government.
Since the programme began in 2011, 90% of the arrivals have been women and children joining husbands and fathers in the UK.
Most of the families who were reunited came from Syria or Sudan, followed by Iran, Ethiopia and Eritrea.
As it stands, the programme is one of the few safe routes for families who have been torn apart by conflict and persecution to be together again. For those who are eligible, it has the potential to prevent people taking dangerous journeys, such as crossing the Mediterranean, to be reunited with their loved ones. According to IOMs Missing Migrants Project, six people died each day making this journey in 2018.
For Syrians like Khaled, the danger of the journey to safety was the reason he chose to travel alone, leaving his three-year-old son Ali in Lebanon with his grandmother.
“There were 55 of us on a boat that only had room for 15. I was sat next to 70-year-old woman who had a two-month-old baby in her arms.
“Then the boat sank. I swam for five hours before I saw the lights of the rescue boat. If my son was there Im sure he would have died, I was so glad I hadnt brought him with me. I thought of the lady and the baby and felt helpless.
Once Khaled eventually reached the UK and was granted refugee status, he contacted the British Red Cross who were able to provide assistance so that he could be reunited with his son.
“I felt huge happiness when I saw Ali at the airport. It is something I will remember forever. I said: I want to kiss you. He said: Daddy Im scared.
“I told him dont be scared, you are safe here. I held him in my arms and kissed him.
The Family Reunion Travel Assistance Programme helps to support refugees who are eligible to be reunited with their close family, but who cannot afford the costs of travel.
But the organisations see many more families who have been separated due to conflict or persecution but who cannot be together due to current legislation, including young refugees who arrive in the UK alone and are not allowed to bring their parents to join them.
Alex Fraser, Director of Refugee Support and Restoring Family Links at the British Red Cross said:
“While reuniting 10,000 people with their loved ones is a positive milestone for us, the costs, complexity and current rules make this pathway to protection out of reach for so many families – families who have already been apart for too long, separated by the most terrible circumstances.
Being apart like this is incredibly traumatising for people who are already dealing with the effects of war and conflict. These families belong together, which is why we are calling on the government to widen the criteria of those who can apply for family reunion.
“Under current rules, young refugees who arrive in the UK alone are not allowed to bring their parents to join them. Every day that these children are separated from their parents is a day they will not get back.”
Dipti Pardeshi, Chief of Mission for IOM United Kingdom said:
“10,000 people who are fathers, mothers, sons or daughters are once again together, often after years of separation and hardship. IOM is proud to be a part of the family reunification process, and reaching 10,000 people reunited here in the UK is a significant achievement.
But, each year, IOM is aware that more and more people are seeking to access their right to reunite with family. While I am heartened to see programmes like the joint IOM-BRC family reunification programme here in the UK, more must be done. This affects families around the world, and so countries should look at possibilities to bridge the gap between current legislation and the significant needs that exist.”
Last year, 5,558 people were recognised as refugees in the UK. One in five was a child who arrived in the UK alone, without the legal right to be reunited with their parents.
18-year-old Tyson is one of those who is unable to be with his mother due to restrictive refugee family reunion rules.
Tyson was just 15-years-old when he was tortured by authorities, and threats to his safety forced him to leave his life and mother behind in Darfur, in the West of Sudan.
“After two years in the UK, England is starting to feel like home. Im settled in Bedford, I go to college and I live in a shared house with eight other people whove become great friends,” he says.
“Although I am thankful for the safety that the UK has offered me, my ultimate dream is to be reunited with my mother. I never stop dreaming of being with her. When I start remembering our home together, with my sisters and brothers, I feel so lonely and emotional.
“Being reunited with my mother would make me so happy. I cant explain the feeling, but its what keeps me going. I want to make her proud because I really believe that one day we are going to meet again.”
To support the British Red Cross to reunite more refugees with their loved ones, donate to the charitys Global Refugee Fund.