The petition of residents of the United Kingdom,
Declares that the Government must do more to protect the rights of refugee children, in particular their right to protection and to be reunited with their family in the United Kingdom; and further that it is vital that the law is altered to recognised the broader range of individuals as family, and that in addition to parents, children’s siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents are also acknowledged as family members.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to extend the current definition of family relation to unaccompanied child refugees entering the United Kingdom.
And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Dr Philippa Whitford , Official Report, 24 January 2018; Vol. 365, c. 376 .]
Observations from the Minister for Immigration (Caroline Nokes):
In considering the request to broaden the definition of family members for refugee family reunion, the Government have noted the concerns of both parliamentarians and members of the public about this issue. This is a complex area and the Government are keen to ensure that we do not create unintended consequences through the widening of the current definition of family members.
The Government have noted the call for refugee children to be able to sponsor their family members. Children who claim asylum here will be offered protection where they need it but there is a good reason why they cannot sponsor relatives to join them. Allowing children to sponsor other relatives would create incentives for them to be encouraged, or even forced, to leave their family and risk hazardous journeys to the UK to sponsor relatives.
But it is important that we note the very significant contribution the Government have made, not only in recent years, to support the global migration challenges. The UK is one of the leading contributors to the Syrian conflict, pledging £2.46 billion of aid to date and a further £175 million to the Mediterranean migration crisis. This support has provided life-saving assistance, including protection for the most vulnerable migrants and refugees and helped build capacity of host Governments to manage migration so that it is safe and orderly. The significant support the Government have provided in the regions means that families do not need to become separated.
By the end of 2016 our assistance delivered:
1.5 million relief items to people affected by the Mediterranean migration crisis;
More than 1.9 million meals for vulnerable refugees and migrants in Europe;
Over 1.6 million emergency interventions such as psychosocial support for refugees and migrants travelling to and within Europe.
Furthermore, by 2020 we will have resettled 20,000 refugees from Syria and a further 3,000 children and families from the wider MENA. This is in addition to the 18,427 refugees resettled under our resettlement programmes since 2004, and the 24,000 family reunion visas issued for refugees and 43,727 people provided with protection status in the UK since 2010 who are entitled to apply for their qualifying family members to join them.
The Government’s objective is to ensure that our policies support those in greatest need of our protection, who cannot remain in their country or region of origin. Extending the definition would go far beyond those in conflict regions or dangerous situations and could lead to this policy being used by significantly more people—who have no protection needs or who are not necessarily in precarious positions.
This Government strongly support the principle of family unity. We therefore have a comprehensive approach to refugee family reunion which is set out in the Immigration Rules and our family reunion policy. This policy reflects a decision-making framework that includes discretion and compelling circumstances. Additionally, there are clear Rules for non-refugees who look to bring non-EEA spouses and dependants. Officials regularly review and monitor the operation of existing policies.
Those recognised by UNHCR as refugees may also be able to join close family members here in the UK through the existing Gateway and Mandate refugee schemes. We need to ensure existing schemes are used to full effect to benefit family members living in regions of conflict and the Government continue to work with NGOs on the application of the current rules and the approach as part of our wider asylum and resettlement strategy.
Taking these factors into account, the Government continue to believe that the current definition of family member for the purposes of refugee family reunion set within a comprehensive framework providing safe and legal routes for families to reunite here already exists and should not be extended or defined further by primary legislation.