A bottle of sand from Jordan (21 August 2017)

Date: 21/08/2017

Duncan Lewis, Main Solicitors, A bottle of sand from Jordan

‘Do I need to sell my bracelets?’ asked Sham at our first meeting. ‘I have been selling all my jewellery bit by bit to support my family since we left Syria. These are all I have left. Shall I sell them to pay your fee?’

Sham and her sisters were sitting in our office in July 2016 as we explained the asylum process to them. Her next question was, ‘How soon will I see my children again?’

Sham fled Syria in 2013 after her home and businesses in Damascus had been gradually destroyed by shelling. They moved repeatedly until there was no safe area they could move to and all of their property and possessions had been destroyed. Escape to Jordan with her family did not provide any real relief. Sham registered with the UNHCR hoping for resettlement as a refugee but 3 years later was still living in the most abject conditions in Amman, surviving on UNHCR vouchers of 10 dinars per month per person in 1 damp room with her husband and 4 young children, one of whom had a serious medical condition. For a family of 6, this is equivalent to £60 a month – for rent, food, toiletries and medicines. This previously affluent businesswoman was selling any valuables she had left to pay for necessities.

Despite an undeniably strong asylum claim, Sham waited over 6 months for her Home Office interview. Every time her children contacted her from Jordan, she tried to think of some reason to explain the delay. Our complaints to the Home Office and to the MP elicited no response.
Sham was recognised as a refugee within days of her interview and we immediately started the process of family reunification. Although legal aid was available for her asylum claim, the Legal Aid Agency would not grant legal aid for the family’s application. Their view was that an intelligent woman should be able to fill in the 5 online and 5 paper forms by herself and navigate her way through the foreign office website in a language which isn’t her own.

We did it for her, Pro Bono. Sham asked whether we would be able to get the children here by her son’s third birthday. We certainly tried but the wheels of officialdom turn slowly and we missed the date by a month.

The family is now safely settled in the UK. They have housing and school places and their remaining bracelets. When they travelled to the UK, they brought with them a bottle of sand from Jordan as a souvenir for us. The sand is symbolic. For three days the family waited on the border between Syria and Jordan in the searing heat in July 2013, begging the Jordanian soldiers to let them through the dunes to the other side. There was a quota of 200 people a day and there were hundreds of desperate families waiting in the desert without food and water. It represents the hour Sham spent on her knees in the sand at the officer’s feet, pregnant and clutching her sick daughter, pleading with him to let them through to safety. Kefiea is the Arabic word for ‘enough.’

Immigration Director Zofia Duszynska, Sondos Arafa, Joshua Chua and Qays Sediqi of the Harrow Immigration team assisted Sham and her sisters in their claims.