Dawit, now 18, was 15 when he arrived in the UK from Eritrea. His mother is widowed, and he has no memories of his father, who died when Dawit was very young. Dawit’s older brother was forcibly conscripted into military service and Dawit has not seen him since. Their mother did not want him to suffer the same fate as his older brother, so sent him to live with his uncle in Sudan. Dawit did not want to leave his family, but was happy living with his uncle, whom he loved and who made sure Dawit spoke to his mother regularly. His uncle cared deeply for him and Dawit felt safe and loved.
Unfortunately, Eritreans in Sudan are increasingly at risk of deportation to Eritrea, where they face being charged with desertion. The Eritrean National Service Proclamation lays out a punishment for attempted evasion or desertion of two years’ imprisonment or a fine, or both, and five years’ imprisonment for those attempting to evade service by fleeing abroad. However, in practice, the usual punishment for those caught attempting to evade, desert or flee the country is arbitrary detention, often incommunicado, without access to a lawyer or family members.
Dawit’s uncle, concerned about the growing risk of deportation, arranged for him to leave Sudan for Europe via Libya. Dawit left with a friend of his uncle, who was to be his companion and guardian. Dawit made it to Europe after a long and hazardous journey, but his uncle’s friend did not; Dawit tried to save him, but he died in his arms.
Our report, Without My Family, details how the UK’s family reunion policy harms child refugees. Based on in-depth interviews with children and young people, and the professionals who work with them, the report shows how the UK Government’s hard-line policy deliberately keeps child refugees separated from their families.
The impact of family separation on children is clear: constant anxiety, fear for the safety of their families, and in some cases serious damage to their mental health.