RLS had only been running for a few months when 17 year old Ali* came to see us after his English class at Khora Community Centre. ‘’I’ve heard there are lawyers here and I want to speak with one about my family’s case. I want my family to travel legally to Belgium, my little sister is there’’. We took his phone number and asked him to come back another time when a Farsi interpreter would be available.
But Ali would not be deterred. He asked for some paper and sat in the waiting area for an hour using google translate, phoning friends, asking passersby for help and making notes. Then he knocked on our door again and produced his piece of paper, on which he’d written down all the key names, dates and details to explain how his family had become separated after fleeing from Afghanistan, and how his little 9 year old sister had ended up in Belgium.
Ali’s parents were devastated by the separation from their daughter. They had lost trust in everyone. But Ali was incredibly determined. He had attended an RLS information session about legal routes through which separated families could be reunited, and he wanted to persuade his parents to use the legal resources that were available to bring his family back together. Despite being only 17, he took on the responsibility of exploring the options and relaying them back to his parents. After a few weeks he managed to persuade his mother to come to see RLS’ volunteer lawyers. She was hesitant and reserved at first. It was clear that she had given up hope. She said:
“They do not want us anywhere…There is no way that six of us can be transferred legally. I cannot leave my mother-in-law alone. I know our future and I have prepared my daughter for it. It hurts me everyday, I cry everyday but I do not want her to believe in dreams’ that will never come true”
Our legal team explained to her that the family’s only option at this stage was to make a discretionary application for family reunification to Belgium under the EU’s Dublin Regulations. We told her that the outcome of the application was far from certain. Although the principle of family unity is supposed to lie at the heart of the Regulations, in practice EU countries often take a very restrictive approach to implementing them, and discretionary applications are often refused.
15 months passed. A lot of work went in to preparing the family’s application, challenging the multiple decisions to refuse it, and supporting Ali and his family through the long legal process. Over 10 volunteer lawyers, RLS staff and interpreters worked tirelessly on their case, in close collaboration with colleagues from Belgium who fully supported the case from the very beginning.
Finally, just a few weeks ago, the family was reunited. We had the pleasure of giving the family the tickets on which they would travel to Belgium.
It’s moments like these that make the many disappointments and frustrations we encounter in this work worthwhile. It only takes one successful case, one family brought together again, to give us the strength we need to continue to challenge the system that fails our clients.
We will never forget Ali’s mother’s words:
“My daughter speaks French and has dark hair now but at least she remembers me. My biggest fear turned out to be just a bad dream.”
*Name changed to protect client’s confidentiality