We believe refugee families should be able to live together if they choose. We are highlighting the impact of the Nationality and Borders Bill on families being able to be reunited. The Bill proposes a two-tier system that will leave some refugees with no right to family reunion.
Family reunion offers refugees a safe, legal route to the UK with many family members using this to escape difficult and dangerous circumstances. It offers those who have been granted refugee status the opportunity to rebuild their lives in the UK.
This aspect of the proposed bill will separate refugees into categories depending on how they entered the UK. Those who have entered through ‘irregular’ routes; via lorry, boat crossings or via a ‘safe third country’ will be treated differently. This differentiation could remove their right to be reunited with family members.
We are concerned that removing the right to family reunion for this group will remove this safe, legal route for family members and that this will force them to make risky journeys to be reunited. We understand the desperation of family members in being apart and the panic that threats to an eventual reunion can create.
This links the government’s willingness to grant family reunion visas to the willingness of specific countries to receive refugees who are being removed from the UK. This clause is not linked to the specific applicant but the actions of their government, often the same government they have fled in the first place.
We feel that this clause has the potential to greatly reduce the number of families who would be eligible for family reunion visas and remove this safe, legal route for large numbers of refugees.
Impact on individuals
Here one of our clients, Girma, shares the risks his family faced whilst he was making his way to the UK: “Whilst we were separated they were not safe they were really struggling. They arrested my wife because I left the country and asked her about me and if she knew where I was. She told them she knew nothing and that I wasn’t there but they couldn’t understand her. I rang our neighbour and they told me she was in prison because I left the country. When I heard this I hung up and could not control my emotions. I couldn’t do anything at the time apart from continue my journey.
My children and siblings were alone at that time, imagine what they could do. Later I contacted some friends in Israel to see if they could help me. They paid the rent for one year. I was very happy about that. My wife was released from prison after six months because when they checked the house they had no evidence that I escaped through my home. If they had found evidence my wife would be dead.”
You can read the rest of his story here: togethernow.org.uk/girmas-story/
Many of our clients are bringing over vulnerable family members, most women and children. Family members are living in limbo as they wait for their visas to enter the UK. For some this means a life on hold, no long term plans, waiting and separation. For others this means being pressurised by family members, being unable to come out of hiding to work and support themselves, being unable to access appropriate medical care or education for their children and for some moving constantly to escape persecution by the authorities.
We want to see all refugees in the UK having access to support to be reunited with family members from when they first seek asylum to when their family has arrived and are settled into life in the UK. The Nationality and Borders Bill will have a negative impact on this right not only through the clauses above but in additional clauses that mean increased detention, longer waits for asylum decisions and criminalising people making asylum claims. These will be massively detrimental to UK refugees, who act as sponsors and a key source of support for vulnerable family members.
Further briefings can be found here: https://familiestogether.uk/briefings-and-resources/