Social Justice

Reunions and separations: Refugee Dads share their stories for Fathers Day

This Refugee Week, fathers share their stories of overcoming adversity to keep their family together.

Jamal, 44, a father of three, from the Voices network. Photographed for the Fathers Day project for Refugee Week, in London. Image: Kate Stanworth

While Father’s Day is often a day of celebration and joy for those lucky enough to spend the day with their Dad, it can be a difficult time for those who have lost, or are separated, from their families.

Each year, thousands of asylum seekers who are also fathers, undertake dangerous journeys to seek refuge in Britain. Many have to leave their families behind and can spend months, or even years, apart from their loved ones.

The British Red Cross works to help reunite hundreds of separated families by supporting women and children to join their husbands and fathers in Britain. 

Award-winning British photographer Kate Stanworth worked with the British Red Cross to document the experiences of refugee fathers in the UK. These are their stories. 

Jamal, father of three

Jamal, a father of three, fled Iran alone four years ago. The family is celebrating their second Father’s Day together in London.

Jamal recalls how his five-year-old daughter would call him up while he was seeking asylum in Britain and she had to stay in Iran. 

“She called me every day saying, ‘I need to see you’,” he says.  

Pictures of his children helped Jamal while he was claiming asylum. Image: Kate Stanworth

In Iran, Jamal was living in constant fear for his safety. He belongs to the country’s Arabic speaking Ahwazi minority group, who have faced state violence and persecution. 

Arriving in Britain, Jamal had little knowledge of what to expect, and ended up spending his first nights sleeping rough.

“Claiming asylum is life or death; you don’t have a middle,” Jamal says.

His wife, daughter and two other children have now joined him in London, where they are rebuilding their lives in safety, together. 

Akhtar, father of two

Akhtar still keeps his son’s toy boat as the only toy he had when the family struggled. Image: Kate Stanworth

Akhtar*, now 60, saved his son’s favourite toy as a reminder of the difficulties his family went through when they fled Pakistan for the UK

When Akhtar* and his family first arrived in the UK from Pakistan, they had very little money and few toys for their children to play with. 

“My son used to play with [the toy boat] – we had nothing at that time. That’s why I saved it until now,” he explains. 

Akhtar has struggled to move on from the hardship inflicted on his family by a solicitor who scammed them out of thousands of pounds, giving false promises over their asylum application. 

Already struggling to get by, the solicitor took the family’s savings and disappeared.  

Now, 16 years later, Akhtar lives with his wife and two grown-up children in safety, but he still carries the financial and mental burden of what it took to get them here. 

George from Cameroon, father of three

George fled to the Uk two decades ago and now lives in Leeds. Image: Kate Stanworth

George*, is celebrating Father’s Day in Leeds where lives with his wife and adult children.

Two decades ago, George was forced to flee Cameroon and travelled to the UK alone, leaving behind his wife and two young children.

“When I fled persecution unprepared, I left my family in limbo,” he says. “I was not only looking at how to get myself settled. The most challenging part was what my family was going through in my absence.”

Years later, once he was granted refugee status, he was able to bring his family to create their new life in Leeds. The family even welcomed a third child, who is now a teenager. 

George is grateful to the British people despite the struggles he has faced. Image: Kate Stanworth

This Father’s Day is a happy one for George, but he still struggles when he remembers the difficulties his family went through when he first arrived in Britain. 

Asylum seekers are banned from working in Britain while the government reviews their refugee application. This meant that George, who had been the family’s breadwinner, had to look after his family from afar with no income and living on vouchers.  

“People can be ignorant of who you are – questioning your existence and why you’re here,” he says. 

“I never could’ve asked for more; I’m thankful [to British people and the support given to him] for who I am today”.  

Ricardo from Congo, father of two

Ricardo is now 54 and living in Bradford after fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo. Image: Kate Stanworth

Ricardo, 54, is glad that his children, who were teenagers at the time, were quick to adapt to their new life in the UK 

“Being a refugee is not a sin. Most of the people coming have left their families; they run to save their lives,” says Ricardo, who arrived in Britain five years ago having fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Despite being teenagers when the family arrived in Britain, Ricardo feels that both his children were quick to adapt to their new lives, making friends through hobbies and learning English at school.

He too found a sense of community in shared interests and hobbies. Having been encouraged  to join a poetry group by his manager at the British Red Cross’ VOICES Network, some of his poems have now been published. 

“I wrote in the book to express myself; to explain to people where I come from”, he says. 

Names with a * have been changed to protect their identity. 

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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