REFUGEE FAMILY REUNION DEBATE Westminster Hall, 29th November 2016
This debate was secured by Thangam Debbonaire MP, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees.
There were many contributions, mainly centred on the fact that children now in the UK should be able to be with family. Time after time MPs made this point, referring to the fact that those under 18 did need to have family with them. They have gone through so much to get to the UK, and then successfully claim refugee status in their own right.
As Alistair Carmichael said “ ….for most people, actually getting refugee status and getting here is only part of the beginning of the story, not the end …….. people need to rebuild their lives from the ground up, and there is no better context in which to do that than the family environment.”
Much is being said now about the importance of integration, and surely being able to be with close family is the step to be able to build from.
Others raised the issue were that cuts to legal aid mean no specialist support is there, and most cases are not straightforward. Added to this they are not told why they have been turned down for legal aid and relevant questions are not being asked. Legal Aid must be reinstated.
Descriptions were given of how families still in countries of origin were needing to make visa applications that were fraught with danger, as unsafe zones had to be crossed to do so at times. It would be so much simpler and safer for this to be done from the UK.
Those working in Churches and the voluntary sector were praised for the important work they did to help separated families. Without them there would be even more desperate straits for many.
Another said about the toxic atmosphere in the UK is making matters worse and only obeying UNHCR guidelines in letter not spirit .
The alleged “pull factor” was dismissed, there was no evidence to support it.
The important point was made about the crucial need for “Safe and legal routes that cut out people traffickers “ and of course “All of us want families around us at times of difficulty”.
The debate was summed up by the Minister, Robert Goodwill. It was very disappointing indeed to hear him speak. There had been so many good contributions with facts, real stories and positive, workable suggestions for the way forward. He appeared to have listened to none of it as he read his prepared speech.
The gallery I had sat in was packed, and we all left concerned progress would not be made. We have to live in hope, and continue to campaign for real and humane family reunions, just as we would want within our own families. Debates like this need to be called for, to let government know what strong feeling there are on the situation, and at least not let it get worse.