"But then [the military] came to my home and said, ‘You are going to join us to fight and that time I was hiding myself for one month at home and then my father told me that they had got our neighbour’s child, he was 15, he was my age, and then I run away from home. That is what they were telling me. Don’t get out of the country until like they didn’t have any choice any more. They didn’t want me to go but it was for my safety. They take any young children… They force them to join the military to fight with them." Rifat 17, child refugee from Syria

In 2016, Rifat was 15 and living in the war-ravaged city of Aleppo in Syria with his parents, three sisters (aged nine, 15 and 16) and a younger brother (13). He was targeted for recruitment into an armed group and his parents feared for his life. Many other boys of Rifat’s age in the neighbourhood had already been taken from their homes and forced to fight for armed groups.

Rifat said that his family insisted that he would not leave the country and that they would stay together. He spent some time in hiding before his parents decided that he had to leave Syria. Rifat said this was the ‘last choice’ his family could make to save his life. Rifat’s uncle took responsibility for getting him safely out of Aleppo and across the Turkish border.

Rifat, aged 17 when he was interviewed, lives in the UK with a foster family. He has not seen his parents or siblings for about 16 months and has been unable to contact them by phone or text for some time. He does not know whether they are alive or dead; he is waiting to hear from the Red Cross. Every day Rifat moves between grief and hope as he lives with this terrible uncertainty.

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