23 February, 2024 - By Leyla Williams

Lihn’s Story

When we first met Lihn at West London Welcome in 2021, she had recently claimed asylum and was vulnerable, isolated and desperately missing her young children after she had fled Vietnam for her safety without them. Lihn was a regular visitor to our centre, visiting twice a week and volunteering in our free clothes shop on a third day. Despite speaking limited English she quickly made many friends, and became a well-loved member of the community. But despite the warmth and support she found at the centre, she was often tearful and could barely sleep. Our casework team, English teachers and volunteers worked closely with her to support her through the asylum process and improve her health and confidence over time.

As someone seeking asylum and living in a local Home Office hotel, Lihn was banned from working or claiming benefits, and had to live on just £8 a week from the Home Office for two years, severely impacting her self-esteem and ability to plan for the future. Staff and volunteers at West London Welcome had to constantly give her hope.

We found Lihn an excellent legal aid lawyer, Milla Walker at Luqmani Thompson, and worked closely with Lihn and her lawyer to support her through navigating the asylum system and the long wait for an asylum decision. In 2023, Lihn received refugee status, which meant it then became possible for her to then apply for family reunion – a step towards reuniting with her children.

But having received the good news of her refugee status, the Home Office then gave Lihn just 28 days to leave her asylum hotel and find alternative housing options. She was faced with street homelessness. Like thousands of others newly with refugee status, since Lihn had been banned from working and forced to live on so little from the Home Office for so long, she had no savings for a deposit or credit history, and was confronted with a private rental market in which very few landlords are willing to accept housing benefit rates. In addition, she was still learning English and lacked the confidence to navigate the housing market alone. Our Senior Caseworker stepped in and worked hard to find her safe, stable housing in London so she wouldn’t face the streets.

In January 2024, Lihn received the wonderful news from her lawyer that the children’s family reunion visas had been approved. But it was up to our advice team to quickly secure funding for the flights, which would have otherwise been completely unaffordable for Lihn, and work out practicalities before the visas expired in March. We found a charity, Together Now, to find the flights, and our casework team worked collaboratively with them and Lihn’s lawyer to navigate the bureaucracy of family reunion paperwork and logistics of bringing the children safely here.

In February 2024, at long last, Lihn’s two children arrived at Heathrow from Vietnam on their family reunion visas, where Lihn was waiting to give them hugs after years apart. We drove the family home from the airport and helped make the children feel comfortable. After 2.5 years of holistic work to bring the family back together, it’s clear it really does take a village.