Refugee reunited with children

Ciara Leeming reports on a new charity's first success

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A charity set up on a shoestring budget just six months ago has reunited a refugee mother with her children after two years apart.
Manchester’s Refugee Welcome Trust was set up by 26-year-old Amy Lythgoe to help parents who have been given leave to remain in the UK but have no financial means to end their family’s separation.

The tiny organisation raised £1,000 in corporate and private donations, which was used to fly two children from central Africa to live with their mother Marie, a survivor of torture.

The 31-year-old was forced to leave her children, then aged four and seven, with relatives when she fled to the UK in 2009.
After gaining refugee status the same year, she applied for Home Office permission to bring her children over – only to be thwarted by cost.

Cost of reunion

Yet within four weeks of being referred to the Refugee Welcome Trust by the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture earlier this year, her children had made the 12-hour flight to Britain and been met by her at the airport.

Lythgoe said: “We’re really happy we’ve been able to help Marie and it is fantastic to see them back together after so long apart. It’s been great to be able to make a grant so soon after getting set up and to see a family benefit directly.”

Lythgoe, an architecture graduate who works in marketing for a housing developer, was moved by the plight of refugee parents when she did advocacy work for charities while still a student.

During her time volunteering at Refugee Action and Manchester Refugee Support Network she felt that the advice she was giving on housing was only scratching the surface – and that other needs were not being fulfilled. She came up with the idea after hearing from a refugee how much money they needed to see their children.

Because asylum seekers cannot work until granted refugee status, some even go without food to save cash for their family’s travel, or borrow from unscrupulous loan sharks. Many are forced to bring family members over separately, leaving unaccompanied children at risk of trafficking and abuse, she said. The cost of reunion can be around £2,500.

Equally deserving

Lythgoe now runs the Refugee Welcome Trust from home in her free time. The charity has two other trustees – including a former schoolfriend of Lythgoe’s who works in the charity sector.

Lythgoe said: “We sought a lot of advice before we started and the beauty of this idea is that all you need is money. We have no special knowledge about the refugee sector so raising money was the easiest thing to do.

“About 12 months ago we came up with the idea, and in about October we became a registered charity and started looking for donations. Of the first £1,000, most came from family and friends. My boss very kindly paid for about half of the family’s costs.

“Now we’re raising more funds before we look for another family, again through a referral from a specialist refugee organisation, and we hope to be able to do that soon. It’s very difficult because all are equally deserving but we are making it very clear to everyone that we have no regular funds because we’d feel terrible if we were raising anyone’s hopes.”


Jude Boyles, manager at Medical Foundation North West, said: “Marie was detained and tortured in central Africa and was profoundly traumatised following her experiences and very isolated. When the family reunion process began, she had no friends or contacts who she could ask for the money to pay for the children’s flights and there are now very few grants available now for refugees to fund family reunion costs.

“Without the Refugee Welcome Trust she would still be separated from her children.”

Photo: Refugee Welcome Trust founder Amy Lythgoe

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