Home Office questions why Syrian refugee, 11, can’t return to war zone to be reunited with mother

An 11-year-old Syrian girl with severe mental health issues is being kept apart from her mother due to Home Office delays that are “putting her life at risk”.

The girl came to the UK in 2021 to join her elder brother after her mother was imprisoned by Syrian authorities in September 2020. Army officers had accused her of using a mobile phone to film, the family said.

In May 2021, the family was told the girl’s mother had been killed in a prison bomb blast. But after the girl had arrived in the UK they found out that her mother was alive, having earlier been transferred to a different prison.

The mother was released in February 2022 and the family applied for a family reunion visa in September 2022 to bring her to the UK.

The girl is extremely emotionally distressed and has attempted to take her life several times, family say. Despite this, Home Office decision-makers asked the family’s lawyers to provide further evidence to explain why the girl, who is from Al Harah in southern Syria, cannot be returned to the country to be with her mother there.

The Home Office is supposed to make a decision on family reunion applications in three months, but she has now been waiting over four months and a half with no response.

A spokesperson said the visa application was being actively considered “with the wellbeing of those involved central to the thinking of decision makers.”

Nick O’Loughnan, from Wilson Solicitors LLP who is acting on the girl’s behalf, said: “I am deeply concerned that the Home Office is questioning why this extremely vulnerable and traumatised young girl cannot return to a war zone.

“The secretary of state has a statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the UK. I think that it is obvious that this is a complete dereliction of duty.

“The delay in outcome is affecting our client’s mental health so severely that it is placing her life at risk. Every day that passes without a positive decision furthers our client’s trauma and places great strain on the lives of her caregivers in the UK.”

The girl’s 28-year-old brother, who lives with his sister and his family in Wembley, said: “My sister is not eating. She’s crying every day. She needs her mum. She has a very strong and close relationship with our mother. She doesn’t understand what the Home Office is and asks: ‘Why can’t you just buy my mum a plane ticket so she can come here?’ I feel broken by the whole thing.

“She bangs her head on the floor. Two days ago she threw herself from the stairs at two o’clock at night. In our house, we hide everything. Everything dangerous we hide in my bedroom. All the tablets and medicines we hide as well.”

Medical evidence submitted to the Home Office from the girl’s mental health team details how she is “hopeless about ever being reunited with her mother and or feeling ‘better’, and she is also reporting that she wants to die”.

It continues: “She presents as broadly mute, tearful, tense … she usually sits with her fists covering her mouth, often picking at the skin on her hands until she bleeds.”

“She has expressed that her only desire is to be reunited with her mother, that she feels emotionally and physically exhausted, she has thoughts to hurt herself which she has acted upon,” they added.

The family therapist also explained: “Her brother has given up work to care for her and prevent her from harming herself, on the advice of mental health professionals. This is having a significant impact on family life as he has several high-need children. It is my professional opinion that he will struggle to provide the long-term care she needs.”

According to government rules, a parent can apply for a family reunion visa for a spouse and children under 18. However, children under 18 can’t apply for a family reunion with a parent under the same process.

Instead, they must make a “leave outside the rules” application, which will then be considered by the Home Office and a visa granted if there are exceptional reasons to do so.

The Home Office said: “The refugee family reunion visa route allows those with protected status in the UK to sponsor their partner, children under 18, or children over 18 with exceptional dependency to join them here.

‘Little Amal’, a giant puppet depicting a Syrian refugee girl, is surrounded by well-wishers outside St Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London

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