After last week’s parliamentary vote on refugee family reunion, which was devastating but not surprising, our campaign is more necessary than ever.

We have just had Christmas where there was so much talk of peace and goodwill. Talk of the importance of families being together. Talk of children being at the centre. We don’t disagree with any of that talk, but now is the time for action.

We need to be able to bring hope to all those who were held apart, and the children who have been through an extremely traumatic time, for no other reason than our government’s bureaucracy and unwillingness to legislate for children to be reunited with their families.

Lib Dem Peer, Baroness Sally Hamwee, has tabled a Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill to be debated in the House of Lords. Refugee Family Reunion actual Bill. It is most important that we do what we can to encourage support from across the House of Lords, from people of all parties and none.

Baroness Hamwee’s Bill, would expand family reunion rights so that unaccompanied child refugees in the UK can sponsor close family members to join them, as has long been Liberal Democrat policy.

Amnesty International, the Refugee Council, and Save the Children have, at the same time, launched a thorough and factual report, “WITHOUT MY FAMILY”

It is worth reading. Some key points are: The UK receives only a tiny fraction of the world’s refugees. In 2018, 1,072 unaccompanied children were recognised as refugees in their own right in the UK and a further 73 were granted Humanitarian Protection. Most come from a handful of countries: Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq and Sudan. The vast majority of unaccompanied children find refuge in neighbouring countries. Families get separated for many different reasons and some children travel on their own in search of safety. The children interviewed for this report shared memories of their departure and separation, their escapes from traumatic experiences in their home countries, and their reasons for leaving their homes behind. The interviews show how:

  • These children’s journeys were made in urgent haste to escape danger.
  • Their choices were limited, and their prime motivation was to search for safety.
  • None of those interviewed had been aware of the family reunification policies of different countries when they were making their journeys.

The report’s recommendations, which we support, are:

To the UK Government

In line with its human rights obligations, the UK Government should ensure that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in all decisions and actions concerning child refugees. The Home Office should:

  1. Permit the right to family reunion for unaccompanied children who need international protection, when this is in their best interests. This right should be formalised within the Immigration Rules for Humanitarian Protection status as well as for those recognised as refugees.
  2. Ensure that family reunion rights are made accessible to former unaccompanied child refugees who are now over 18 years of age.
  3. Commit to a broad enough definition of family for unaccompanied child refugees to enjoy their right to family life and to include child siblings and any legal or customary care givers in their country of origin.

To local authority service providers

We urge local authorities to undertake further research and consultation with social work professionals on best practice in respect of therapeutic and practical ways to support the family-related needs of unaccompanied child refugees. This evidence should be integrated into local and national social work training and training standards to ensure that best practice in this area is systematically and consistently applied.

Amnesty International UK have also started a petition which we urge people to sign here

Please not only sign it, but encourage others to do so too.

Responding to the report, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Christine Jardine said:

“Child refugees who’ve been forced to flee their homes and separated from their families are some of the most vulnerable people in the world. We must do all we can to protect them.

“The UK has a proud history of providing sanctuary to those in need, but the Conservative Government is doubly failing to uphold that tradition.

“The Conservatives are preventing child refugees in the UK from being reunited with their family, and this week they voted against allowing child refugees elsewhere in Europe to join family members here.

“Liberal Democrats are fighting for these children. We have tabled legislation that would allow unaccompanied child refugees in the UK to sponsor close family members to join them.

“Sadly Conservative Ministers have so far refused to support our bill, but I urge them to think again.”

This comment from the Refugee Council sums up the issues too:

Commenting on the research, Maurice Wren, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said: “The UK’s rules on refugee family reunion are a flagrant breach of the Government’s legal obligations to act at all times in the best interests of the child. For many separated children, being reunited with family members is indisputably in their best interests, yet in the UK we choose to keep them apart for the inhumane reason that this might deter others from seeking safety and protection. Faced with the clear evidence in this report of the harm that enforced separation causes children, the Home Secretary should see reason and change these rules immediately.”

Social workers and other professionals spoke of their distress at witnessing the children they care for having to cope without family. The report also points to the consistent criticism the Government’s policy has been subject to, from senior judges to specialist Committees of parliamentarians and the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

In 2018, MPs from across the political spectrum voted with an overwhelming majority to change these harmful rules. Despite this, the Government has continuously delayed and blocked the changes from happening. Amnesty International, Refugee Council and Save the Children are calling for urgent action to ensure child refugees are given equal opportunities to be with their families.