One of the many fringe meetings held at Lib Dem Conference was on Refugee Family Reunification, organised by Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary, with refreshments kindly provided by Liberal Democrat Voice.

This is a write up of the meeting,

‘How should the UK change its refugee family reunification policies’: LD4SOS at Brighton Fringe meeting

There were plenty there to hear our panel of speakers and enjoy the refreshments provided courtesy of Lid Dem Voice despite us clashing with a big consultation on the supporters scheme.

Tim Farron MP started off with a review of the overall position and welcomed the approval earlier in the day of policy motion F16 with all 5 amendments, most notably amendment #1 (LD4SOS). He reminded us that in debates we are not just talking about policies but real people who are affected. He talked about the experience of visiting Calais, where it was clear that what people were looking for was safety, not a nice life on benefits.

Then there were people entering Europe. When he was helping on a Greek Island   as a boat full to overflowing of refugees landed, one woman told him “Stop handing out bottles of water and accept some ****** refugees.” Hearing stories from a family with good job and business back in Syria he asked himself “What makes such a family flee and put their much loved children at risk?”.

The refugees then hit a wall. In Thessaloniki they could get no further.

Baroness Sally Hamwee has piloted the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill through the Lords, and Tim hopes to see it through the Commons; it may be that a similar Bill, proposed by Angus MacNeil, which passed second reading in the Commons on 16th March, will ultimately prevail: it is the end result for those affected that matters most.

In Cologne he found quite a different from pictures painted from what was portrayed in the media recently, and he wished that our country could be the same in accepting refugees – they were contributing to society in different ways, and it is us that are missing out here.

Tim further spoke of the broad breadth of experience people brought to the UK (in contrast to the shame of UK expats in southern Spain not integrating!) and how much more they could do if given the right to work and were able to learn the English language.

Jon Featonby from the British Red Cross told us how they help people through the process of applying for asylum, and then when they are successful, they want to know how to unite with others in their family.

Because of the set rules that we have, there are very difficult decisions to make when a family leaves a war-torn area. What to do with siblings, under and over 18 years old? Leave them at home or bring them with them ?

Jon noted that, whilst 6 months ago that day, there was a victory in Parliament, families are still apart. Amnesty, Oxfam and Refugee Council all have petitions and campaign details on their websites. Amnestyare working on a giant photo album to show to the Home Office about the impact of Family reunification.

He argued that the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme has been huge success so far, but it should not be cut off in 2020, but extended and more countries be included (as in the F16 Policy paper).

Finally, Jon noted that, the current rules that restrict state assistance in housing and welfare to 28 days post-recognition, is a huge issue for those given leave to remain. He similarly lamented the fact that refugees are only granted temporary rather than indefinite leave to remain.

Dr Ruvi Ziegler (Associate Professor in International Refugee Law at the University of Reading) discussed the UK’s policies on family reunion in European and international perspectives. He emphasised that the absence of safe and legal routes to asylum in Europe inevitably leads individuals to seek refuge and subsequently wish to reunite with their family and noted that the number of persons resettled globally is dismal – less than 1% of the total refugee population.

He suggested the European human rights law, especially the right to family life, as well as the principle of the ‘Best interests of the Child’ in the Convention on the rights of the Child could help bring about policy change in the UK.

He argued that, a liberal (and Liberal) policy for integration and family reunion is desirable, including extending political rights to refugees. In respect of the European refugee ‘crisis’, Ruvi noted that the fault lies in large part with the “Dublin” system, under which the ‘burden’ is borne by economically weaker states in Southern Europe, and that part of the solution for the EU lies in extending intra-EU freedom of movement to refugees and other beneficiaries of protection.

The meeting ended with a Q and A session – never enough time for a good discussion, sadly, and thanks for the food, LDV!

(note, the new policies in the Policy Paper 131 and LD4SOS amendment #1 as adopted as part of F16 mean that we do now have policies on Family Reunion, restoration of Legal Aid, the Right to Work, Learning English, extension of the SVRPS scheme, and having 60 days grace to move out of accommodation when granted leave to remain.)

and this article was published here, where you can join in the discussion.

‘How should the UK change its refugee family reunification policies’: LD4SOS at Brighton Fringe meeting