'It doesn't make sense': The refugees being separated under UK family reunion visa rules

ITV News Correspondent Sarah Corker reports on the difficulty refugees face when it comes to uniting a family in the UK

The Alrfaai family are trying to build a new life together in Glasgow. After escaping the war in Syria, they were granted asylum in Scotland three years ago.

But one person is missing, their eldest son Mohammed, 21, is now facing deportation to Africa.

"The whole family is suffering. His mum and his sisters are all struggling to comprehend the fact that he might be moved to Rwanda," Mohammed's father Hisham Alrfaai told ITV News.

"It doesn't make sense - the Home Office knows that his whole family's here. So instead of reuniting him with them, they are separating him, sending him somewhere else. Rwanda. What does he have to do? There is just nothing."

Because he's over 18, Mohammed couldn't get a family reunion visa to join his family.

In desperation, he said he crossed the channel illegally on a small boat in 2022.

Speaking from a detention centre near Gatwick, he told ITV News he's close to having a mental breakdown, traumatised by what's now happening.

"They said they're going to deport me, they said my asylum claim is not being accepted, but I don't understand why… they said you came here through the backdoor, but I don't know what other door, they don't have any other doors. I don't understand," Mohammed Alrfaai said.

The Alrfaai family are among thousands of families separated by immigration rules.

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Family reunion visas are one of the only safe routes to the UK for refugees, but charities warn there's a backlog of applications, many wait much longer than the Home Office's target of 12 weeks, while others aren't eligible to apply at all, due to their age for example.

Charities warn that a lack of safe and legal routes is pushing vulnerable families into the hands of people smuggling gangs.

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said: "The UK's failure to provide adequate family reunion routes has devastating consequences.

"We can all understand how utterly heart-breaking it would be to be trapped in a different country from our children or parents, with no way to reunite."

The backlog of family reunion applications in July 2023 was 11,000. A joint report by the Refugee Council and Safe Passage International identifies "serious failures and gaps" in family reunion policy in the UK.

'There is no safe way for children to get to the UK, so they are being forced to turn to people smugglers,' Refugee Council CEO Enver Solomon told ITV News

The report calls for five changes, including:

  • Amendment to immigration rules to remove the barriers to children joining refugee non-parent adult relatives in the UK.

  • Amendment to immigration rules to allow refugee children in the UK to sponsor parents and siblings.

  • Open a pathway to resettle the family members of people evacuated under Pathway 1 of the Afghan Citizens' Resettlement Scheme by June 2024, as promised.

Philippa Kemp is a family psychotherapist who works with refugees across Yorkshire.

For the last three years, she's been supporting Afghan children who are desperate to find a way to bring close family members to the UK.

"As the time has passed I've just seen them crumble and become more depressed, they've got both physical and mental health issues," she said.

"They've lost all faith in humans, especially adults. They aren't doing so well at school, they are struggling with a lot of mental health symptoms. They're in limbo they always had been."

Family psychotherapist Philippa Kemp told ITV News how the children she works with have turned from 'bright' and 'hopeful' to 'depressed' with 'both physical and mental health issues'

The Home Office has not released data on the number of Afghans evacuated in the UK government operation without their immediate family, but it confirmed in December 2023 that it was aware of at least 80 children evacuated to the UK without their families.

Families were separated during the chaos of such evacuations, with those left behind having no way to join their families in the UK.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said that the Rwanda policy is the only 'viable plan' to stop the boats

The Home Office didn't comment on the specifics of the family reunion visa scheme, but a spokesperson told ITV News: "We do not want people to risk their lives on these dangerous and illegal journeys, which is why we have taken robust action to crack down on vile people smuggling gangs who only care about profit.

"We made one of the largest commitments of any country to support people from Afghanistan and so far, we have brought around 27,900 individuals to safety in the UK.

"We remain on track to meet our commitment to allow eligible immediate family members of those evacuated to reunite in the UK."

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