Nadine Kalema didn’t have a choice when she fled her home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
It also had the most heart-wrenching consequence – leaving her young son Daniel behind.
One year on, Nadine had been granted asylum in the UK and was living in Glasgow. In all that time, she didn’t know the whereabouts of her son.
“My family in Congo were not safe,” she said. “And so they were forced to move from one location to the other to find security eventually.”
Once Nadine knew that Daniel was in a relatively safe place, she started the process of applying for a family reunion visa to bring him to the UK.
Nadine approached the British Red Cross to get help with her family reunion application. Lilian, her caseworker, worked with Nadine’s lawyer who had started the process.
“I found it very difficult to gather all the information from home,” said Nadine.
“But I had a lot of help from the British Red Cross and my lawyer. It was reassuring that the British Red Cross kept in contact with me during the process and supported me during the application.”
A worried mother
Back in Congo, 12-year-old Daniel was living with his grandmother. His separation from his mother had affected his schooling, resulting in poor grades. This made Nadine anxious.
“The bond between Daniel and me is very strong. I was worried about his education,” said Nadine, who understandably wanted to be there for her son. “I am the best person to raise Daniel.”
Daniel submitted his visa application in September 2016.
“The visa was then granted in December 2016, but we only got a phone call about it in February 2017,” said Nadine.
The Home Office had made an administrative mistake, with disastrous consequences – Daniel’s visa had expired.
Yvonne, another Red Cross caseworker, broke the news. “I was crying when Yvonne told me about the expired visa,” said Nadine. “I felt discouraged in knowing that it may take more time to be able to see Daniel.”
With help from the Red Cross, Nadine was finally able to get Daniel’s visa re-issued so he could travel to the UK.
Earlier this year, Daniel finally arrived in the UK and was once again by his mother’s side. Nadine was overwhelmed.
“I can’t describe how I feel – I’m so happy,” she said.
Her son’s journey to the UK was also booked through the Red Cross travel assistance programme, a scheme to help pay the travel costs for refugees whose families live overseas.
Now reunited, Nadine would like Daniel to go to school and continue with his education. Nadine is also attending college to learn English. She would like to start working again as soon as possible.
When asked about what advice she would give to families who are going through the family reunion process, Nadine is quick to respond: “I would advise people to trust in the British Red Cross. My experience was exceptional.”
- For more information about finding missing loved ones, contact the Red Cross on 0141 331 4170 or on our website.
- Support our family reunion work by taking part in Miles for Refugees this September.
- Reuniting refugee families: a system stacked against those in need
With thanks to Yvonne Baillie, family reunion development caseworker, and Emma Levy, refugee support volunteer.