For Muhammed and Amal, fleeing violence at home meant losing the one thing they cherished most. 

Their family. 

This is their story.

Torn apart

Muhammed and Amal are from Daraa in Syria.

They fled to Libya with their four children shortly after the conflict began.

Life in Libya became increasingly dangerous.

They were also worried about their eldest son’s education. Kusai had been top of his class in Syria, but in Libya he had to work to help the family make ends meet.

After two years in Libya, Muhammed decided to make the journey to Europe.

“I have been split into two halves”

Muhammed arrived in the UK in March 2014 and was granted refugee status in December 2014.

He immediately began the process of applying for family reunion – the process through which those granted refugee status in the UK can bring close family members to join them.

He knew Kusai was about to turn 18, which would make him ineligible for a UK family reunion visa. So Muhammed  tried desperately to arrange an appointment with a solicitor before the New Year.

UK rules allow refugee parents, who have successfully claimed asylum here, to be reunited with children. But not if their children are aged 18 or over.

He was told that his only option would be to hire a private solicitor. He did so by borrowing money and was able to arrange an appointment for 31 December.

Amal Alwadi with family

Expired passport

At this point the family became aware of another problem. It is impossible to apply for UK family reunion in a country that does not have a recognised British embassy.

Muhammed’s solicitor advised that the closest countries they could apply from were Turkey or Sudan – at which point the family decided to move from Libya to Turkey.

The family put in a family reunion application, but found out in February 2015 that they had been rejected.

The reason for the rejection was because Kusai’s passport had expired while they were in Libya. The family had been unable to renew it.

DNA test

Their solicitor then advised them to appeal and to obtain DNA tests.

Finally, at a hearing in Manchester in September 2015, a judge ruled that Amal and two of their children, Lin and Majd, were eligible for family reunion and could come to the UK.

Kusai and his sister Athar were rejected simply because they are over the age of 18.

While Athar remained in Turkey, Kusai decided to take matters into his own hands. For the last five months, he has been living in a makeshift camp in Calais, France.

He is aware that people try to enter the UK illegally every night. But his mother begs him not to do it.

Muhammed and Amal Alwadi

“I miss their days and nights with me. I miss our meals together”

Elder sister Athar, meanwhile, is now married.

But while she is not alone, she is not happy. She does not have the full rights that Turkish people enjoy.

Because it is so hard for Syrian people to find work in Turkey, her husband frequently risks his life to return to Syria to work – meaning that Athar is on her own.

Muhammed explained that he left Syria to protect his family. He used to have a comfortable life  and didn’t come to the UK because he needed money.

The former lawyer said he has been suffering more in the UK than in Syria and doesn’t understand what kind of protection this is.

The family has also fallen into a lot of debt. Muhammed estimates that applying for family reunion has so far cost £6,000-7,000. They are struggling with bills and expenses and have to repay the money Muhammed has borrowed.

Muhammed said: “We are a very close family; our bonds are very special. My little kids ask me every day: ‘Baba, what happened with Kusai and Athar? When will they join us? When will we see them and talk to them?’

“I truly have no idea or what to tell them.”