This toddler was a refugee - he died as his family waited years to be resettled
Fadi died as his family struggled to access appropriate medical care for him in Turkey. (Open Democracy) (Open Democracy)

An Iraqi family remains stuck in Turkey after almost a decade waiting to be legally resettled, despite their toddler son dying because he couldn't get the medical care he needed and their daughter suffering from the same condition.

The family has been waiting for resettlement since 2014, after opting to go through the official United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) channel, they told news website Open Democracy.

They begged for their application to be fast-tracked, sending as evidence medical documents proving a rare autoimmune condition toddler Fadi – not his real name – suffered from.

The same disease killed the family's eldest son in 2009 while they still lived in Iraq, before killing Fadi in 2020.

Their mother Mina is terrified that her daughter, who was born in 2012, will also die as she has the condition too.

In 2016, the family was rejected for resettlement by the US with no reason given, after being recommended by the UNHCR.

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EDITORS NOTE Children's faces have been pixelated as the PA Picture Desk has been unable to gain the necessary permission to photograph a child under 16 on issues involving their welfare A group of people thought to be migrants, including young children, walk up the beach in Dungeness, Kent, after being brought from the RNLI Dungeness Lifeboat, following a small boat incident in the Channel. Picture date: Thursday April 27, 2023. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
Fadi's family wonder if he would still be alive today had they taken the smuggler route into the UK. (Getty Images) (Gareth Fuller - PA Images via Getty Images)

In 2017 – three years before Fadi died – they were notified that they had been referred to a resettlement country for consideration, but they've heard nothing since.

Mina said restrictions imposed on refugees in Turkey made it hard to access medical care for Fadi, as it is expensive and because the family needs permission from the immigration office to travel to medical appointments.

It raises questions over UK home secretary Suella Braverman's insistence that there are already safe and sufficient legal routes for people to take, as she attempts to prevent small boats crossing the English Channel.

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But as Mina says: "Sometimes I think, if I had taken the smuggling route, I would have gotten treatment for my children."

After their rejection by the US, Mina wrote to the UNHCR's international office in Geneva to complain about their treatment, she says officials seemed concerned about the delays.

But she alleges the body's local Turkish office then contacted her directly to scold her for complaining, according to Open Democracy.

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Dungess, Kent, UK. 17th Dec, 2022. Migrants arriving on the beach at Dungeness having been rescued by the RNLI while trying to cross the English Channel in subzero conditions today. Dungeness, Kent, UK. Credit: reppans/Alamy Live News
Refugee charities have said the UK criminalising Channel crossings contradicts the very principle of claiming asylum. (Alamy Live News) (reppans)

Sonya Sceats, chief executive of Freedom from Torture, told Yahoo News: "For most people fleeing war and torture, there are no safe and legal routes to claim asylum, despite Braverman's fictitious claims.

"While people in need of our help are tragically losing their lives, the British government is dismantling the system of refugee protection established after the Holocaust, and introducing one of the most authoritarian anti-refugee laws in the world.

"The UK must scrap the refugee ban bill and act now to save lives. This means rebuilding an efficient asylum system and collaborating with our European allies to create safe routes across the continent."

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“This is a tragic case and our deepest sympathies go to the family," the Refugee Council told Yahoo News.

“It once again underlines the lack of safe routes for people in desperate need, and underlines the misinformation which is pumped out with depressing regularity about how refugees seeking sanctuary can reach the UK or other countries.

"The simple fact is that as the UNHCR has repeatedly said, its resettlement programmes are not in any way equivalent to the safe routes we have provided for refugees from Ukraine.

"If a refugee is from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Eritrea or Iran, for example, there are no workable and safe routes to take."

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The SNP's Home Affairs spokesperson, Alison Thewliss MP told Yahoo News: "The devastating circumstances this family find themselves in shows the cruel reality of Westminster's decision to callously close our borders to those who need our help the most and have no legal routes open – contrary to international obligations and the Westminster’s own Joint Committee on Human rights.

"Families like Fadi's deserve our help and compassion yet the Tories recent move through their Illegal Migration Bill, to ignore the UN Refugee Convention and the Human Rights Convention, has resulted in the polar opposite - they should hang their heads in shame.

"The Tory government needs to take action urgently to help Fadi's family. They should see this as an opportunity to create an asylum system that offers people protection, security and dignity - however, ultimately, it is only with the full powers of independence we can make Scotland a welcoming place to those fleeing persecution and war."

How does the UNHCR system work?

When going through the UNHCR system, asylum seekers do not apply directly to resettle in a country of their choice.

As the body explains: "There is no application process for resettlement – refugees at heightened risk are identified by the UNHCR through our ongoing protection programmes in countries of asylum.

"Currently, new resettlement opportunities to the UK for nationalities other than Afghans are minimal."

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This flies in the face of Braverman's recent comments in April on the Sudan crisis, in which she said: "If you are someone who is fleeing Sudan for humanitarian reasons there are various mechanisms you can use.

"The UNHCR is present in the region and they are the right mechanism by which people should apply if they do want to seek asylum in the United Kingdom."

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LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 23, 2023: Secretary of State for the Home Department Suella Braverman arrives in Downing Street to attend the weekly Cabinet meeting in London, United Kingdom on May 23, 2023. (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
The case flies in the face of home secretary Suella Braverman's claims that there are sufficient legal routes for asylum seekers to take. (Getty Images) (Future Publishing via Getty Images)

But the refugee agency says that unless you already qualify for protection under an existing resettlement scheme, for refugees and asylum seekers – such as the one set up for Ukrainians – then "there are no safe and regular routes by which to travel to the UK, including for the purpose of seeking asylum".

While it is true that the UNHCR could identify someone and recommend them for resettlement in the UK, it is not true that asylum seekers can apply to move to Britain themselves through this channel, according to Full Fact.

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It comes after Braverman was grilled by a panel of MPs in November who told her she was "out of her depth" after conceding many asylum seekers wouldn't have the chance to legally apply for UK asylum from abroad.

The UNHCR agency says that since 2015 around 28,000 refugees have arrived in the UK through UK resettlement schemes operated in partnership with UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration.

Watch: Braverman 'wrong' to say asylum initial decision backlog has reduced