"Just imagine yourself that someone takes you from somewhere and puts you somewhere else, for example, a desert in the Sahara. And you have got no language, no nothing. And they say, “Live your life without your family, without anything.” It is really hard to start, you know." Habib 17, child refugee from Darfur

Habib, now 17, is from Darfur, a region in western Sudan. He was just 15 when he was arrested by the police, after going to the market with friends. He said he was imprisoned for a week, tortured, and questioned about his father’s political associations and activities, of which he
knew nothing.

Habib said that when he was released, his mother told him he needed to leave Sudan quickly. He left the same day with an uncle, leaving behind his younger siblings (aged nine and 11) and a disabled older brother to whom he was very close. Two of his older brothers were later imprisoned and Habib explained how difficult it was to hear about this when he was so far away from his family, especially his mother.

Habib reached Libya where, he said, he experienced serious human rights abuses at the hands of people smugglers. He described how he has constant flashbacks of the moment he saw smugglers killing a baby as its mother was giving birth. After hearing of his brothers’ imprisonment, Habib and his uncle decided to leave Libya for Europe but became separated. On the journey alone to Europe, Habib said, his boat capsized; he was rescued by Italian coastguards but said he saw many people drown.

Habib spent eight months in the camp in Calais known as the ‘jungle’ before coming to the UK. He has started tracing his family in the hope that he could be reunited with them as a way of moving on from the horror of the last few years. He discovered that his mother and siblings are living in a refugee camp in Chad.

‘Family is everything, an absolute magnificent thing. When you say family, it is simple, it is everything. Family is life. They give you inspiration and everything to move forward with this life… I haven’t seen my family for nearly three years now. It is a long time and I miss my mum. I cannot explain what this feels like. A mum is, she gives me life… She is like my beating heart. Being without your family, it is like you have a body without a soul. How can I explain that? It is like a car without an engine' Habib, 17, child refugee from Darfur

Our report, Without My Family, details how the UK’s family reunion policy harms child refugees. Based on in-depth interviews with children and young people, and the professionals who work with them, the report shows how the UK Government’s hard-line policy deliberately keeps child refugees separated from their families.

The impact of family separation on children is clear: constant anxiety, fear for the safety of their families, and in some cases serious damage to their mental health.

Read more