A charity supporting an Eritrean family that waited three years to be reunited has accused the Home Office of “inexcusably long” delays.
Eight-year-old Luilana’s visa to get to the UK was initially refused in 2021 but successfully appealed a year later.
She was then, however, forced to flee war, travelling between three countries before meeting her mother again this month in Birmingham.
The Home Office said it understood the importance of reuniting families.
But according to the Refugee and Migrant Centre charity, the family should have been together much sooner. It said that despite satisfying criteria to legally bring a child into the UK, they faced obstacles that could have been avoided.
Luilana’s mother, Yordanos, who arrived in the UK in 2020, told the BBC: “Every day she was all I dreamed of, and I worried if she was alive or dead.
“Had I not had Luilana with me now, I would have lived my life divided in two. It really is a blessing that she is here with me.”
Their story began in February 2020 after Yordanos secured a spouse visa to leave Eritrea and join partner Yanos in Birmingham.
He came to the UK as an Eritrean refugee in 2012, but to sponsor his partner and child he had to meet a minimum income threshold of £22,400, which he managed by working extra shifts.
The family decided to separate mother and daughter’s applications after advice from community leaders in Eritrea.
But the Home Office turned down Luilana’s visa and she was left in the care of her aunt in Sudan while her mother moved to Birmingham.
In November 2021, the West Midlands-based Refugee and Migrant Centre began an appeal on the family’s behalf and a court overturned the visa decision in August 2022.
However, in April 2023, conflict erupted in Sudan between rival groups.
Luilana and her aunt were taken to safety in South Sudan and, weeks later, travelled to neighbouring Uganda to be closer to an immigration centre.
“There were air strikes and Luilana was not well until they reached Uganda,” Yordanos said. She was screaming all the time and very traumatised.”
They were finally reunited at Heathrow Airport, 15 months after the successful appeal.
Criticising the process that ended with legal challenge, Danai Papachristopoulou, the Refugee and Migrant Centre’s immigration manager, said: “It’s a family that followed the process, met all the requirements to bring a child legally and safely in the UK and these are the obstacles that people face.
“We have 34 advisors at our centre – all of us have at least one case where delays are extremely and inexcusably long.”
Home Office data showed that in 2021, 626 children from Sudan and Eritrea were granted family reunion visas to enter the UK and 365 in 2022.
“We understand the importance of reuniting families and visas are processed on a case-by-case basis using the information we are provided,” a Home Office spokesperson said.
In Birmingham, where it is half term, Luilana is preparing for school.
She is also getting to know her baby sister, Ana, who was born in the UK and whom she had only ever seen on a video link.
Source : BBC