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Refugee family reunion

Volume 673: debated on Monday 9 March 2020

The petition of residents of Glasgow North,

Declares that under current family reunion rules adult refugees can only sponsor their partners and children under 18 years old to join them in the UK; further that child refugees in the UK have no family reunion rights so they can’t bring their parents to join them; further that the lack of opportunities for refugees to reunite with family members forces people to turn to smugglers and exacerbates the humanitarian crises in Southern Europe; and further that, for refugees already living safely in the UK, the enforced separation from their families and constant anxiety about their wellbeing can be devastating, preventing them from rebuilding their lives and undermining their successful integration into their new communities.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to expand the criteria of who qualifies as a family member for the purposes of refugee family reunion, including by allowing adult refugees in the UK to sponsor their adult children, their siblings that are under the age of 25, and their parents; further to give unaccompanied refugee children in the UK the right to sponsor their parents and siblings that are under the age of 25 to join them under the refugee family reunion rules; and further to reintroduce legal aid for refugee family reunion cases.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Patrick Grady, Official Report, 11 February 2020; Vol. 671, c. 826 .]

[P002555]

Observations from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Chris Philp):

The Government provide a safe and legal route to bring families together through its family reunion policy. Under this policy, we have granted over 27,000 family reunion visas in the last five years.

We are clear that there is discretion to grant visas outside the immigration rules, which caters for extended family members in exceptional circumstances. This discretion may be used where, for example, young adult sons or daughters are dependent on family here and living in dangerous situations.

Refugees can also sponsor adult dependent relatives living overseas to join them where, due to age, illness or disability, that person requires long-term personal care that can only be provided by relatives in the UK.

Amending the policy without careful thought could significantly increase the numbers who could qualify to come to the UK, not just from conflict regions but from any country from which someone is granted protection. In reality, this would result in extended family being able to come here who themselves do not need protection —which risks reducing our capacity to assist the most vulnerable refugees.

The Government have made clear in the past their concern that allowing refugee children to sponsor parents’ risks creating incentives for more children to be encouraged, or even forced, to leave their family and attempt hazardous journeys to the UK. This too would play into the hands of criminal gangs, undermining our safeguarding responsibilities. Our policy is not designed to keep child refugees apart from their parents, but in considering any policy we must think carefully about the wider impact to avoid putting more people unnecessarily into harm’s way. There is a need to better understand why people choose to undertake secondary journeys to the UK after reaching a safe country, which are unnecessary. It is important that those who need international protection should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach—that is the fastest route to safety.

Legal aid for refugee family reunion may be available under the Exceptional Case Funding (ECF) scheme, where failure to provide legal aid would mean there is a breach or a risk of breach of the individual’s ECHR or enforceable EU rights, and subject to means and merits tests.

The Government recently amended the scope of legal aid so that separated migrant children may receive civil legal aid in relation to applications by their family members and extended family members, for entry clearance, leave to enter or leave to remain in the UK granted either under the immigration rules or outside the rules on the basis of exceptional circumstances or compassionate and compelling circumstances.