Yaema’s story

Yaema’s story
28th April, 2017

By Amelia Weidner

Yaema was born in Sierra Leone and fled to Guinea in 1998 with her sons after her husband was killed in the Sierra Leone civil war. Yaema was displaced from her entire family after leaving Sierra Leone.

Yaema arrived at a refugee camp in Guinea run by the United Nations in 1999. She met a man, Marius, who was running a small food business in the refugee camp, and they began a relationship and had three daughters together.

When each of their daughters were infants, Marius took them to live permanently with his mother in a rural village outside the refugee camp. Despite knowing their daughters may have a better life living with their grandmother outside the refugee camp, Yamea felt extremely distressed and saddened about them being taken away.  However, she felt powerless to resist or challenge Marius’s decision.

Despite requesting many times to visit their daughters, Marius refused and consequently she lost contact with them.

Unexpectedly, one day Marius didn’t come to work at the refugee camp, and Yaema never saw him again.

In 2006, Yaema migrated to Australia as a refugee with her sons.

Yaema comes from a traditional Muslim background and did not tell anyone in her family that she had three daughters with a man she was not married to, as she feared her family and community in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Australia would disown her. Yaema no longer knew where her daughters were, or if they were even still alive.

After moving to Australia, Yaema made contact with her younger brother, Saidu, in 2008 who was living in Sierra Leone and travelled to Guinea regularly for work. Yaema had always been very close to her brother and she decided to tell him about Marius and their daughters.

Yaema was thrilled when Saidu said he would try to find her daughters and reunite her with them. Saidu travelled to Guinea to look for them many times.

Eventually, in 2011, Saidu found Yaema’s daughters living with their grandmother in a small village near where they were born.

Their grandmother told Saidu she had not seen her son since 2004. She was extremely poor and said she was struggling to provide for her granddaughters. Saidu attempted to find Marius, but never located him.

In 2012, Saidu started negotiating for Yaema’s daughters to move with him, to ultimately be reunited with Yaema. After weeks of discussions with their grandmother and community leaders, Saidu was permitted to take Yaema’s daughters to be reunited with Yamea.

Yaema subsequently prepared and lodged child visa applications to bring each of her daughters to Australia to live with her permanently, including providing DNA evidence to prove she was their biological mother and listing Marius as ‘missing’ on their visa application forms. Yaema also worked hard to save the several thousands of dollars in visa application fees.

In July 2016, the Australian Government granted Yaema’s three daughters visas to live permanently in Australia. Yaema, her daughters and their relatives were ecstatic.

Yaema’s daughters were booked to depart Sierra Leone for Australia in August 2016, but were prevented at the airport from departing on the basis that their visas had been cancelled.

At the same time, Yaema received an email from the Australian Government advising that they’d received information from a man indicating he was the father, who had not consented to their move to Australia. The flight tickets were also forfeited and not refunded.

Yaema was devastated and shocked that her daughters’ visas were cancelled. A huge welcome party in Sydney was cancelled, and Yaema felt humiliated, confused and extremely depressed.

Yaema subsequently found out that a distant relative had deceptively proclaimed to be the father when he wasn’t. Yaema was told his malicious act was driven by his jealousy of her successful life in Australia.

Yaema approached Salvos Legal Humanitarian for assistance in making submissions requesting the Australian Government revoke the cancellation of her daughters’ child visas on the basis there was no grounds for cancellation. For many months, we received no update from the Australian Government regarding its investigations or its decision on whether to revoke the cancellation.

Eventually, we received a request to explain discrepancies in information provided on the visa application forms compared to information held by the children’s school.  We made further submissions highlighting the fact that the visa application forms were accurate and correct, and asserting that the Australian Government had acted unlawfully and against its own policy by relying on unclear and fraudulent evidence and claims in cancelling the child visas.

Within 24 hours of receiving our submissions, the Australian Government revoked the cancellation of the child visas and Yaema’s daughters recently entered Australia as permanent residents.

Yaema reports that she is currently making arrangements to enrol her daughters in the local high school, and that her daughters are thrilled and relieved to finally be living with their mother and brothers in Australia.

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