Refugee family reunion: Will the UK government adopt a fairer approach?

by 21st Feb 2018
Syrian refugee Dana (not her real name) and her sons in Serbia Syrian refugee Dana (not her real name) and her sons in Serbia

Will the parliamentary debate on refugee family reunion be a chance for the UK government to adopt a fairer approach? Right now in the UK, refugees who have been torn apart from their families by war and persecution continue to be separated from the people they love because of unfair and restrictive rules.

We know that for refugees who have fled unimaginable horror, rebuilding their lives and integrating into British society is much more likely if their families are with them. Despite this, those who have managed to reach the safety of the UK are left isolated, traumatised and alone as they grapple with a new language and try to find their feet in a foreign country with minimal support. Meanwhile, those they love who are left behind face untold dangers.

A recent CARE International report, Left behind: How the world is failing women and girls on refugee family reunion, based on research in Greece, highlights how obstacles to refugee family reunion impact women and girls in particular. The majority of those seeking family reunification from Greece are women, often with children. Many of these women have been waiting for months or even more than a year to receive a decision on their family reunification application, and this wait entails huge levels of stress and anxiety, as well as heightened risks of sexual and gender-based violence.

This prolonged wait, and the lack of transparency and information about the process, pushes some women and children to undertake yet more risky journeys with smugglers when they lose hope for a positive response to their reunification request. The UK government has said it wants to combat human trafficking, yet legal obstacles put in the way of refugee family reunion actually increase the risk of it happening.

You can help change this. Angus MacNeil MP has managed to secure a debate in Parliament on 16th March that could change the rules on refugee family reunion. CARE needs at least 100 MPs to attend and vote to allow refugees in the UK to be joined by their families. You can help by making sure that your MP is one of them.

View the message that Angus MacNeil MP recorded for CARE explaining why support for this debate in Parliament is so important:

Of course, some restrictions will remain, but easing the stranglehold will ensure that the UK can take more responsibility in welcoming those who have been forced to flee their homes. As well as losing their homes, they have been separated from their families and all that they know. We want them to have a chance to rebuild their lives so they can have safe, happy futures together.

To achieve this, together with other humanitarian and human rights groups, CARE is calling for:

1) Child refugees in the UK to have the right to sponsor their family so they can rebuild their lives together and help them integrate in their new community.

2) An expansion of who qualifies as a family so that young people who have turned 18 and elderly parents can live in safety with their families in the UK.

3) The reintroduction of legal aid so refugees who have lost everything have the support they need to afford and navigate the complicated legal process of being reunited with their families.

Why is CARE calling for this? CARE International is one of the world’s leading aid agencies providing assistance and protection to refugees. Last year, we supported over five million people displaced by natural disasters and conflict. Our work spans both basic life-saving assistance, such as medical aid and shelter to those stranded as they flee crises, and longer-term support around things like education and job opportunities.

In Jordan, for example, we support refugees from Iraq and Syria to integrate through local community centres, which also provide assistance to less advantaged Jordanian citizens. Through investing in reproductive health facilities, safe spaces in refugee camps and the prevention of gender-based violence and other measures, we take deliberate steps to address the needs of refugee women and girls. It’s through that on-the-ground, practical work that we see first-hand the impacts on refugee families torn apart by the legal obstacles, which this debate in Parliament can address.

The UK government can be rightly proud of the humanitarian assistance it has given, and the support that the British public channels through organisations like CARE. But helping mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters who have been torn apart in times of crisis also requires political action on family reunification.

View a conversation between two refugees – one stranded in Greece, and one who has made it to Germany with her family – in which they describe their hopes, dreams and the challenges they face, and the role that keeping families together plays in this:

Howard Mollett

I joined CARE in 2005, since then I’ve been lucky enough to work with our local teams and civil society partners in countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Sudan, DRC, Kosovo and most recently on the Syria regional response team. My current responsibilities include co-chairing our global network of policy specialists on gender in emergencies, with a colleague in Pakistan, and leading CARE’s advocacy in the UK on the Syrian conflict.

Over the years, I have also worked on innovative research and advocacy with country teams on conflict analysis, civil-military relations and humanitarian access. What has kept me with CARE is the organisation’s support to grassroots activists and its commitment to addressing gender in a serious way.

Prior to joining CARE, previous roles included research on human security and development at the Centre for Defence Studies; the facilitation of a network monitoring human rights implications of the ‘Global War on Terror’; support to European coordination of the Make Poverty History campaign; global coalition-building with the Our World Is Not For Sale coalition; research on trade policy; and support to a network of environmental and human rights CSOs in the Balkans.

One good thing I’ve read

Drown by Junot Diaz - short stories that offer a brilliant fictional lens on gender, class and migrant experiences in the USA.


Twitter @HowardMollett