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‘The need is still there’: last young refugees arrive in UK as family reunion route closes | Refugees

‘When I used to be a toddler in Afghanistan I beloved to look at my uncle play chess. Now I’ve joined the native membership right here.” Samir is grinning as he talks about settling into life on England’s south coast. “I’m very glad right here, simply being with my family, going for walks to take a look at the Christmas lights. It’s actually lovely.”

After arriving in Greece alone two years in the past, when he was simply 16, and spending many months homeless and terrified in the port metropolis of Patras, Samir lately made a journey that the majority refugees can solely dream about. He stated goodbye to the chums he had made in a camp for unaccompanied minors – different youngsters from Somalia, Iraq and Palestine – and travelled safely and legally to hitch his father and sister in the UK.

There have been no lorries or dinghies concerned; he was given a airplane ticket and arrived at Heathrow. “My sister got here to fulfill me and she or he was so excited that she needed to take me straight to London to indicate me Oxford Road, however I used to be too drained,” he says. “So we simply went to an Afghan restaurant. That was so good after such a very long time, to eat actual Afghan meals once more.”

However for the legal professionals and campaigners who fought for months to convey him right here, Samir’s happiness is bittersweet. He is one of many last unaccompanied young refugees to arrive in the UK beneath the EU family reunion legal guidelines that ended with Brexit.

“These are the ultimate instances,” says Beth Gardiner-Smith, head of the kid refugee charity Protected Passage. “We now have one or two extra kids transferring to family right here from France in the following couple of weeks, however these are the last young individuals coming by way of our Greek workplace.”

After the House Workplace admitted in 2018 it was planning to finish family reunion when the UK left the EU after Brexit, there was a scramble by legal professionals and households to finish functions by the deadline of 31 December 2020. The youngsters who managed to attain that at the moment are right here, however the door has been slammed shut behind them.

For Gardiner-Smith, it is painful to see a protected route to the UK shut down simply as the tragic price of unlawful journeys is turning into more and more evident in the Channel.

A line of people wait on an airport apron beside a plane
Refugees in Athens board a airplane to Britain in Could 2020 as a part of a reunion plan between the 2 international locations. {Photograph}: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP

“It’s simply such a waste of all of the work we did exhibiting that this route works,” says Gardiner-Smith. “It is so irritating. The need is still there, kids are still asking for our assist in Greece, we’re seeing plenty of young Afghans arriving who’ve family in the UK.

“We need to assist them however we solely have the very restrictive British immigration guidelines. Kids can’t be part of uncles or aunts or siblings – these are the vast majority of our instances. Even becoming a member of a father or mother will likely be very troublesome.

“We’re already seeing kids get uninterested in the authorized route and vanish to make their very own option to the UK.”

Protected Passage was arrange in 2015 when the refugee disaster noticed 1000’s of kids travelling by way of Europe in the course of the Syrian battle. In France, legal professionals discovered kids residing alone in the Calais camp and fought in British courts for them to hitch family in the UK.

Since then, a whole lot of kids have safely joined uncles, aunts and cousins in Britain.

Mohamed is one other one of many ultimate arrivals. He is residing in the Midlands now and celebrating his 18th birthday this week along with his aunt after a troublesome few years that noticed the House Workplace refuse him family reunion thrice.

“I really like England – it is so protected and organised. I used to be residing for years in a refugee camp in Iran after my family fled the Taliban in Afghanistan. Iran needed to ship us again to Afghanistan however we stayed, residing in hiding.

“I left by myself and reached Greece, which was a really unhealthy place for refugees. I met a social employee who stated there is a gaggle known as Protected Passage [who] will provide help to,” says Mohamed.

“They did – they helped my aunt, we discovered a solicitor and after refusing me thrice, lastly I bought the proof I wanted. It was unbelievable to return right here on the airplane; it was like being born once more. I’m so grateful.

“I want I had the ability to assist the chums I’ve left residing in tents in Greece; some have been there for a few years and they’re so afraid.”

Like lots of the kids who utilized for a family reunion visa, his case suffered a number of delays as the House Workplace requested he present an increasing number of proof.

“I used to be refused thrice, they didn’t consider me as a result of I used to be lacking paperwork and knowledge,” he says. “I used to be so unhappy.

“I couldn’t concentrate on something, my aunt was in the UK and I used to be alone in Lesbos and Athens, however buddies helped get cash so a lawyer may get me a DNA take a look at. Lastly, I’m right here.”

Even when it was accessible to households, these granted a proper to stay beneath the EU reunion course of confronted lengthy delays. In instances highlighted by the Guardian, kids have been left residing alone in harmful situations regardless of having the authorized proper to be in the UK.

Afghan refugee Samir
Samir was one of many last minors allowed to hitch kin beneath the family reunion visa preparations, which ended with Brexit. {Photograph}: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

However with out it, the longer term is bleak for unaccompanied minors stranded in Europe.

Whereas Samir lastly celebrates being along with his sister, his ideas are with the individuals he left behind. There are greater than 2,000 unaccompanied minors residing in Greece, lots of them with out a protected place to remain.

“I believed I used to be young to be travelling alone,” he says. “However once I bought to Greece there have been so many kids and a few have been a lot youthful than me. I used to be homeless for the primary six months – it was very scary.

“Once I did get a spot in a shelter for underage boys, there was one small boy there, simply 13 years previous. He had family right here in the UK – two uncles – however no one with him. I used to be a 12 months and 5 months in the camp and each time a brand new boy bought his family reunion and left – to Holland, to Germany – this boy was crying. Once I left, he cried. I want somebody may assist him.”

Samir’s father is in Afghanistan now, desperately making an attempt to get permission to convey his spouse and their different kids to the UK. Despite the fact that he is now a British citizen, he is discovering it troublesome to get permission for them to journey.

Gardiner-Smith says her crew are attempting to assist kids in an more and more troublesome ambiance in Greece. “The Greek authorities launched hostile laws, just like what the UK authorities is making an attempt to convey in. You probably have come by way of Turkey then most asylum seekers are deemed inadmissible.

“Though it doesn’t apply to beneath 15s, quite a lot of our unaccompanied minors are between 15 and 17 and their help is lower off.”

The immigration invoice now going by way of parliament will, she fears, make issues worse in Greece as nicely, and she or he is working with a handful of supportive politicians in an effort to get provision for family reunion elevated.

“There will likely be two tiers of asylum seekers and people who arrived irregularly will likely be disadvantaged of the correct to family reunion,” Gardiner-Smith says.

“We all know what this implies realistically – it means extra individuals moving into small boats to attempt to be part of their households right here.”

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