On the one-year anniversary of the fall of Kabul, the Families Together Coalition calls for Afghan refugees in the UK to be urgently reunited with their families
Over a hundred organisations working with and for refugees in the UK have come together to urge the Government to reunite the Afghan families that were tragically torn apart in the mayhem and bloodshed of last August’s brutal fall of Kabul.
The Families Together Coalition, set up by leading charities including the Refugee Council and Amnesty International UK, are calling on the Government to right what they describe as the ‘clear wrong’ that sees many Afghans who have found safety in the UK unable to reunite with family members who remain trapped in Afghanistan and in grave danger.
The campaigners highlight that without urgent action by Government, Afghans who were brought to safety in the UK during and after the evacuation under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) will not be able to be joined by family members currently trapped in country fearing for their lives. This contradicts assurances given by the Government, as long ago as September 2021, that relatives would be eligible to join people who had been evacuated.
People denied access to family reunion include refugee Hamid. In the chaos of the evacuations from Kabul airport last August, Hamid, 44, had to board a military flight with his wife and three youngest children leaving behind other family members including his young brother, Hameedullah, who was just 16. Hameedullah was turned away from the flight by British Border Forces as he only had a copy of his ID and not the official version – he hadn’t been able to find the official version when the family had been forced to quickly flee their home amid chaos and sounds of gunfire.
Though in the UK and relieved to be safe, Hamid remains deeply concerned about his brother who has been living in a Taliban run camp in Kabul for children without parents. The brothers’ parents have passed away meaning Hameedullah is alone and in limbo, leaving the camp for only a day a week to get some emotional support and fresh clothes from other extended family members.
Hamid says: “We didn’t want to leave him alone. We didn’t get on that flight and waited another 6 hours to try to persuade them to let us come with us. But then we had to leave. We had been four nights near the airport without any clean clothes, not much water, every night in a difficult situation. I fought so hard to get him here but they would not allow him.
“I wish that my brother had been allowed on the evacuation plane but now we need help to get him here safely. It is not just my family, there are lots of us that left people that are under age or even overage, mothers and fathers. There could be thousands of families going through this pain. I hope the British Government quickly consider ways to get family members here to the UK where they can be safe. The schemes for Ukraine are easier to get family members here, less restrictions so we know it is possible. I ask that they make it easy for family members to join us Afghans here in the UK.”
Every day refugees find themselves separated from their families during the brutality of conflict and in the struggle of fleeing a warzone. Being reunited with family members is a life changing moment, with evidence strongly suggesting that bringing loved ones together again significantly supports their recovery and integration into their new communities.
Refugee family reunion is a right that is ordinarily given to refugees on being granted status here. Due to the nature of resettlement, Afghans who were evacuated to the UK do not have access to the regular process for refugees to be reunited with family members.
This is why it is so important that the Government honours its word that the family members of those Afghans would be eligible for resettlement in the UK. The Government clearly recognised the importance of family reunion in its creation of the Ukraine Family Scheme, which has enabled thousands of Ukrainians to reunite with a wide range of family members in the UK including those outside of the nuclear family.
Speaking on behalf of the Families Together Coalition, Andy Hewett, Head of Advocacy at the Refugee Council, said:
“As with the conflict in Afghanistan, one of the cruellest impacts of war is that it so often sees close family members torn apart, often ending up in different countries and even continents from their loved ones.
“We know from extensive experience of working with refugees that being apart from family has a hugely detrimental impact on their health, wellbeing and ability to recover from all they have endured. Therefore, a vitally important part of supporting those fleeing conflict is by enabling them to be reunited with their loved ones once they have found safety. Denying people this ability is a clear wrong.”