Mr Al’saeed is a 54 year old Syrian national. In his own country he was a lawyer, relatively well off the family lived together in a large beautiful house and had all the trappings of a wealthy lifestyle. Forced to leave in the chaos of the conflict, his house having been partially destroyed he became a refugee in the UK with most of his family. Mr Al’saeed has four children but left Miriam, his 23 year daughter, in Syria with friends in what he believed to be the safest area because she wished to stay in Syria for her husband and was pregnant with her first child.
Miriam had married an idealistic young Syrian who became involved in the political struggle. His involvement in the anti-government movement led him to take up arms like many of his peers and like many hundreds of other young of men he died an unrecognised, insignificant death in Aleppo. Miriam was called by his friend but her husband’s body was never found and she knows he most likely lays in bombed out building or pile of rubble somewhere.
Miriam, with assistance from her father’s friends and his financial support fled to turkey and was forced to live unofficially with many thousands of Syrian refugees, finding support through the local mosque and money wired through,when possible, from her family. At 23 Miriam did not have a straightforward claim to family reunion but managed to get Leave to Enter outside the rules. By the time she received this though she was too far advanced in her pregnancy to fly.
Mr Al’saeed case came to the clinic in October 2016 via the British Red Cross – the baby’s details were noted and at first it appeared to be a straightforward matter, simply asking for the baby to be issued a visa allowing him to travel with his mother.
A letter, an email and a second letter, sent to the Embassy with all the child’s details and copies of the mother’s documents proved ineffective and it was decided we would have to submit a full blown family reunion application for the baby. This proved difficult, despite, unusually having a full set of documents. Mr Al’saeed was very emotional and clearly under a great deal of stress. He often forgot to bring requested documents and there were discrepancies in the translations.
Having finally submitted the application it was a case of waiting for the appointment. This has been set for a month in advance in order to allow the mother and child to get organised and for Mr Al’saeed to apply for travel assistance through Red Cross IFTA.
However a clinic lead received a frantic call from Mr Al’saeed who advised that his daughter had been dragged into a side street and sexually and verbally attacked in Turkey and it had been arranged for her to travel to the uk using her still valid visa. She had left the baby at a mosque where contacts through the mosque would collect and look after him until a decision had been made on his visa application.
There was no news from the embassy for a further two weeks despite clinic staff knowing it had been accepted and was being processed. The mother, ill and distraught and now in the UK was reported to be barely functioning and Mr Al’saeed was contacting clinic staff daily. This matter arising in the midst of the snap general election campaign meant that contacting an MP was almost pointless and it was decided by the supervising solicitor that contact should be made to the UKVI Children’s Champion. Back up plans were also mapped out to contact the children’s commissioner and others. A simultaneous email was sent by a clinic lead to the three Entry Clearance Managers (ECMs).
The Children’s Champion replied within less than a week with the bittersweet news that the visa application had been decided two weeks previously and yet the family had not been told. The ECM in Turkey replied shortly afterwards that the visa needed collecting and that the child had just two weeks left in which he was permitted to travel and enter the UK.
A friend of the family was sent to the embassy with the child but was not allowed to pick up the visa. The clinic coordinator therefore had to draft an affidavit and letter confirming the mother was temporarily transferring guardianship style powered to the family friend, have this translated into Turkish in order for the friend to understand and sign it and then back into English in order for it to emailed to the embassy with a covering letter. Because of local holidays this had to be done over a weekend and as well as the time it took it was also difficult to engage with the family friend because of intermittent and insecure IT access.
Finally the letter was signed and the family friend was able to take the baby and collect the visa. The clock was not ticking and the baby had just ten days in which he could enter the UK. The Red Cross had begun to complete the travel assistance forms but really needed more time and the family friend decided that they could not travel so the baby needed accompanying. This was arranged through contact and discussion around logistics with the International Office of Migration and having gained advice and a list of updated contacts from UNHCR.
The baby arrived just 48 hours before his visa expired had the visa expired the entire process would potentially have had to be restarted as the letter from the ECM had indicated the visa window and no offer was made to extend the visa.
The baby was met by mother and grandfather and the photos we were shown say it all. The disbelief at being reunited, the delight, but also the pain and suffering and uncertainty about the future. Miriam looks exhausted, ill and bloated. The grandfather is beaming but looks exhausted and the baby looks wary and unsure, bewildered and a little lost, struggling to get down from his mother’s arms. In total the mother and child had been separated for around 8 weeks. This time will never be given back. No one will ever truly know the damage done to the bond or to the individuals; whether the mother will tell him all that really happened. The family gave a little over four years to reconnect and settle in the UK before making an application to stay indefinitely, if that’s what they choose to do. The decision on where they live will be out of their hands. The case will be deemed somewhat ‘messy’ because Miriam and her son’s case are outside of the rules. There will be no legal aid if the status quo is maintained to help them, guide them through this next application. In the meantime the family are living in overcrowded circumstances struggling to navigate and survive on the benefits system until they are physically and mentally well enough to work and command English. A last ironic twist in the case is that the child has on his visa these three words – Right to Work ‘