The family, who have asked to be referred to by their first names only, are from war-torn Yemen. They had been living in a Gulf state but when that country revoked their residency permits they were forced to flee.
Although all four asylum claims are based on the risk to their lives in Yemen, the father, Hussein, 52, was able to travel by plane to the UK as he obtained a visitor visa. His journey from the Middle East to the UK took a few hours and did not endanger his life.
But his three sons, Hamzah, 25, Hassan, 23, and, Hazem, 22, were unable to obtain visas and so had to use smugglers to reach the UK. Their journey took a year, cost far more than their father’s journey and put their lives at risk many times over.
The three brothers are all in Gatwick Immigration Removal Centre with a ticket for a charter flight to Spain on 3 September because they passed through that country en route to the UK.
Under the so-called Dublin regulations, the UK can request that the first safe country they passed through takes them back. It is understood that Spain has agreed to the Home Office’s request to remove them there.
Because the brothers’ father did not pass through another European country before arriving in the UK he has not been locked up and the Home Office is considering his asylum claim. The family is begging the Home Office not to split them up.
The three brothers travelled first to Turkey from where they boarded a flight to Ecuador and then flew to Spain and from there travelled to Calais where they managed to cross the Channel on their third attempt. On one of the failed attempts one brother slipped out of the dinghy and almost drowned but was rescued by one of his brothers.
The father reached the UK before his sons did. They were overjoyed when they made contact with each other and the Home Office agreed to place the family in accommodation together in Manchester.
But after less than a fortnight together there was a dawn raid on the accommodation ordered by the Home Office and the three brothers were arrested and taken to Brook House immigration removal centre near Gatwick Airport leaving their father alone in the accommodation.
The father Hussein said he had cried throughout his sons’ dangerous journey to the UK. “I felt so worried about their survival all the time and I felt so guilty that my journey was so much easier than theirs,” he said.
He was shocked by the Home Office dawn raid so soon after the family had reunited. “I wasn’t even allowed to say goodbye to my sons when they were taken,” he said. “It was so powerful when we were able to be together here in the UK after the difficult journey my sons had. But now I have been separated from my children once again. My heart is broken. I am crying day and night. My only hope is that somehow my kids can come back to me.”
Speaking from Brook House IRC, Hassan said: “The atmosphere in here feels very tense. My only consolation is that I am with my two brothers. We have not managed to find stability in any European country. I don’t want to live any more. We are looking for a safe country. We are looking for dignity and human rights but all the doors are closed to us.”
He said the brothers are terrified of being returned to Spain on 3 September. He said: “Conditions for asylum seekers there are so bad. We had to sleep in the street, had no food and were treated in a racist way by some of the guards there.”
He added that crossing the Channel in a dinghy was terrifying. “Each of us paid the smugglers £3,000. We received threats and abuse and didn’t think we would survive the Channel crossing. When I saw the British flag on the coastguard boat I was relieved. I felt as if we could at last start a new life. Instead we have been locked up in detention and are facing being sent back to Spain, a country where we could not survive.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “It is an established principle that those in need of protection should seek asylum in the first safe country that they enter and not put their lives at risk by making unnecessary and dangerous onwards journeys to the UK. In the case of [the father], he claimed asylum in the UK first and we continue to process his asylum claim.”
The spokesperson added that the Home Office was looking further into the cases of the three brothers.