I miss my Mum so much and am so worried about her, about the situation she is in, it is so hard and I feel so sad. When I speak with her she is crying all the time. I can’t forget the times I had with her. I also miss my Dad and all my brothers and my sisters. I never know whether they are OK.
Wasim last saw his parents two years ago, when they were separated by a bomb blast at the airport in Kabul. Wasim, who was carrying his baby cousin, was hurried onto a flight with his uncle, but his parents and siblings didn’t make it through the crowds.
Many Afghans in the UK – including children like Wasim – are desperate to find a way to be reunited with close family members who were left behind in Afghanistan. Philippa, a family psychotherapist who works with refugees, explains.
“I first discovered that this group existed when I started working at a hotel in Leeds, offering support to women and children who had come from Afghanistan on the airlift. I just kept meeting children who were separated from their parents.
Some of the teenagers asked the Home Office officials in the hotel, and they had responses like ‘I don’t know, you can Google it.’ Others said we don’t know what to do, you’ll get information some time. But that time has never come.”
Nazanin, who is just starting secondary school, was staying with her older sister at the time of the evacuation, and also became separated from her parents and siblings. She says:
It’s hard to explain. I feel very bad without my parents. I miss my parents so much.
I just want my parents to come here – nothing more. I feel bad when I see my friends with their parents.
Philippa explains the impact this has on the children she works with.
“It’s been heart-wrenching to watch them over the years,” she says. “For a few it has been a big chunk of their lives, a quarter of their lives.”
“When I first met them, they had been through the most horrendous trauma coming to the UK.” Some had seen the effects of the explosion at the airport, and the fear which swept through the crowd. “Before, they’d experienced the terror of the Taliban takeover and may have seen family kidnapped, tortured or killed. You know all the background stuff, plus the trauma of the evacuation itself, and forced separation from their families.”
“But still, when I met them at the hotel they had a brightness and an optimism that that they were safe now, and that the people around would make everything okay, and their families would come. They’d been promised that, and they talked to me about their enjoyment of sport, or how they wanted to improve their English. They were really hopeful young people.”
Two years down the line, they’re just broken. I don’t know if I can even explain. When you watch children change like that, from full of hope, of life, healthy, keen to learn…
“Different children are affected in different ways, but they’ve all been hugely affected. Some are not eating, they’re losing lots of weight, all are sad, distressed and tearful. None are sleeping properly. They go to bed dreading sleep, having thoughts go round around the heads: guilt, shame, pining for their parents. All feel hopeless and struggle to concentrate.”
“Some of them feel that they are responsible for their families starving or being in terrible situations. Their families are in hiding so they can’t work, so there’s poverty, so they can’t get medicine. They’ve got all the worry of what’s going on for their families, and some of them feel that they’re failing them because they should be looking after their family. So all that worry. Just the sheer terror of what they’re going through, is the main thing.”
Zulikha, who was 18 at the time of the evacuation, is desperately worried about her parents, who are living in hiding in Afghanistan. She has become the main carer for her younger brother and sister, and is trying hard to get advice on how to apply to bring her parents to the UK.
Just give a visa to my Mum and Dad. I need my Mum, because my Mum, she is sick.
Everyone says “just wait”. They are not thinking about the waiting time, how long it is for our families. No one thinks about this. They are saying “just wait”. How much time can I wait? That’s more than 2 years!
Philippa’s message is simple:
“If you just stop for a minute and imagine your own child, or a child you know, being in this situation, and just try and to empathise – surely the answer is just obvious, it’s not complicated. Let them bring their parents. They need their Mums and Dads, they were separated through the chaos of the evacuation from their children. It’s just obvious to me. They need each other in order to thrive, and be children.”
Who are we, if we can’t be humane about children? Let’s at least start with the children, we should all be able to relate to their needs.
“Just to be given a visa, just to be told they can come, that could make all the difference. For the children, to be heard, would be a massive thing in terms of their mental health.”
It’s soul destroying. I feel ashamed and heartbroken that we can’t do better.
“I am not going to give up. I’ve got no power, but while we keep fighting, doing everything we can, that’s all I can do. I’m not letting them feel invisible, sticking with them, when they feel forgotten.”
As part of the Families Together coalition, the Refugee Council is calling on the government to reunite Afghan families.
We are also campaigning to change the law to allow refugee children to bring their parents to safety in the UK.
Because families belong together.