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When 12-year-old Omar* arrived in Stockholm after escaping from Syria, he had become separated from his family and was completely alone in a strange and unfamiliar city. It took months of tears, emails and phone calls before he saw his parents and big brother again.

But had Omar arrived in London, he wouldn’t have been allowed to sponsor his family to join him. Fleeing war and persecution, people like Omar’s relatives are forced to take grave risks, often in the hands of people smugglers – all in the hope of finding a safe place to be a family again. It doesn’t have to be this way. Tell the UK government to help refugees travel safely to be reunited with their families.

UK: Help bring refugee families back together

The issue

Imagine if you had family abroad trying to escape bloodshed and repression. And instead of you being able to provide them with a place of safety, they were now exposed to the miserable and life-threatening conditions facing so many refugees at this time – perilous journeys, overcrowded camps, danger at every turn.

You would want to support them, welcome them to safety in the UK – yet in many circumstances under UK immigration rules you couldn’t – you would be faced with severe restrictions, including excessive financial requirements, preventing you from sponsoring them to join you.

Your loved ones would be left with very few choices: remain separated from you in possibly dire conditions, lonely and at risk of exploitation, or put their lives in grave danger and attempt to cross several borders, land and sea to reach you.

Hopeless and frustrated

For Omar and his family, the turning point was when they heard rumours that the Syrian government was looking for his dad – they knew they had to get out immediately.

The family made it to Turkey, but as Palestinian Syrians they couldn’t register as refugees, leaving them in an even more precarious situation than many others. They had hoped to travel on to Europe, but soon realised there was no safe, legal way to get there. European embassies and consulates in Istanbul wouldn’t return their calls for help.

Then things got worse – their money was stolen. They were trapped.

Left with no other option, they attempted to fly to Europe. Omar and his dad, Mohannad, went with a people smuggler who pretended to be his mother. Mohannad was stopped by Turkish police, but Omar passed under the radar. It wasn’t until hours later, when Omar found himself completely alone in Stockholm airport, that he realised his dad hadn’t made it.

‘It was horrible, I sent the Swedish embassy hundreds of emails saying: ”Please, my son is there, I have to go to him.“ He was just 12 years old.’

Maha, Omar’s mother

After four months, Omar got his residence permit and the right to be reunited with his family. His parents and older brother joined him in Sweden.

Image: Omar’s parents, Mohannad and Maha, in their new home in Uddevalla, Sweden.

Dying to be reunited

Not every family has the happy reunion that Omar’s were able to enjoy. Had Omar found himself in the UK, he would not have been permitted to sponsor his family to join him under our rules.

Many other refugees and British citizens in the UK, worrying for their family members elsewhere, find themselves helpless, unable to bring their loved ones to join them in safety. Their family members may be compelled to undertake dangerous journeys, facing further abuses, including sexual violence and assault along the way, and risking their lives in unseaworthy boats or locked in lorries often without air.

This is all because of the absence of safe and legal routes to reach the sanctuary and support they need and are entitled to.

What we’re calling for

Everyone has the right to seek protection abroad, but getting to Europe safely and legally is impossible for most refugees.

Family reunion for refugees is not a new idea – but the UK’s immigration rules are failing many like Omar’s family. Currently:

  • A child refugee in the UK cannot sponsor any family members, even their parents, to join them.
  • Most adult refugees already in the UK are unable to sponsor their parents, children over 18 or adult siblings, because of severe restrictions in the rules. 
  • Many British citizens are similarly unable to sponsor their refugee family members because of these restrictions.

By expanding these rules and allowing refugees to join family members in the UK, the government could make a huge difference to families torn apart by crisis in their home country.

The UK government must not sit by as more people are forced into the hands of people smugglers and to undertake dangerous – and often fatal – journeys.

Email your MP

Ask your MP to call on the Prime Minister to urgently amend the immigration rules to help more refugees to be reunited with family members in the UK.

If you would like to personalise your email, let them know if you have been involved in any local activities connected to the refugee crisis to give them a sense of the wider support for refugees in your constituency.

*Omar is not pictured.

What we need to do

Everyone has the right to seek protection abroad, but getting to Europe safely and legally is impossible for most refugees.

Family reunion for refugees is not a new idea – but the UK’s immigration rules are failing many like Omar’s family. Currently:

  • A child refugee in the UK cannot sponsor any family members, even their parents, to join them.
  • Most adult refugees already in the UK are unable to sponsor their parents, children over 18 or adult siblings, because of severe restrictions in the rules. 
  • Many British citizens are similarly unable to sponsor their refugee family members because of these restrictions.

By expanding these rules and allowing refugees to join family members in the UK, the government could make a huge difference to families torn apart by crisis in their home country.

The UK government must not sit by as more people are forced into the hands of people smugglers and to undertake dangerous – and often fatal – journeys.

Email your MP

Ask your MP to call on the Prime Minister to urgently amend the immigration rules to help more refugees to be reunited with family members in the UK.

If you would like to personalise your email, let them know if you have been involved in any local activities connected to the refugee crisis to give them a sense of the wider support for refugees in your constituency.