Journeys to the UK can be difficult due to the lack of safe and legal routes. Many people make a heart-breaking decision to send one member of their family ahead and to later apply for family reunion. This is a decision which Julia*, a single mum, had to take when she was at immediate risk and had to flee her home country, leaving her children to be looked after by another family member.
“I had to leave my country as I was under direct threat, and I came to the UK alone as that is all we could afford. Separating myself from my children was terrible. I was really depressed, and we were all so worried about how long it might be until we see each other again.”
When families who long to be together are separated, they can experience significant trauma and harm to their wellbeing. A report by Oxfam and Refugee Council, Safe but not Settled, explains how “separated families in the UK were unable to focus on activities essential to integration, such as learning English, because they were preoccupied with worries about family members, experiencing feelings of guilt or struggling with mental health problems. Stress and anxiety were especially pronounced for some separated families. Furthermore, some refugees were pushed into poverty after making substantial financial sacrifices to send money to family members abroad.”
When Julia had been granted refugee status, she asked her lawyer whether they could help her with a family reunion application. The lawyer said they could not help her and told her to get in touch with Asylum Justice. Julia was sent to Asylum Justice as family reunion is ‘out of scope’ for legal aid, which means refugees rarely qualify for legal aid to help them with making a family reunion application. As a result, immigration solicitors usually have to turn away refugees who need help making family reunion applications unless they can afford to pay the legal fees, which very few can afford. We, like many others in the Families Together coalition, believe family reunion is an essential right and advocate for bringing family reunion back into the scope of legal aid to ensure everyone is able to access help.
Thankfully, even though Julia was denied legal aid, she came to us – the only organisation in Wales to provide representation free of charge to refugees in their family reunion applications.
“I was really happy that Asylum Justice took on my case. They were very professional and patient ensuring I understood what documents I needed to provide and kept me updated throughout the whole process. It all went really smoothly”
Julia had left her children in mid-2018, the youngest just four years old at the time, and it was in early 2021 that her family reunion application was granted, and her children were able to join her shortly after. They had spent nearly three years apart and now they were finally together again.
“I could not believe how quickly Asylum Justice were able to help me. I wasn’t expecting to see my children in 2021, I thought it would be a much longer process. I’m just so happy now.
We’re really settled now – we have a home, the kids have started school, and we’ve made friends. Of course, the kids do complain a bit about the Welsh weather – but then who doesn’t!
Really the work Asylum Justice is doing is amazing and I am so overjoyed that they helped me with my case. I extend my thanks to everyone at Asylum Justice for making this possible.
Over the last year I have seen so many people in my city in the same situation who are separated from their children. There is no other help available, and this is why Asylum Justice is so important! I would 100% recommend their service”
Please be aware, we have not used the individual’s real name.