A debate in Westminister Hall on Tues 29th November covered many of the key issues faced by refugees in being reunited with their families.
Thangam Debbonaire, who tabled the debate, opened with facts from the Red Cross including that 51% of applicants helped through the Red Cross through their family reunion programme faced violence, torture and harassment as they applied. As it is usually the man that goes to find a place of safety for their family 95% of these applicants left in this situation were women and children.
We are often asked why men leave their families in this situation and through meeting our clients and understanding their stories it is clear to us that they consider the risks of staying are far higher than leaving to look for a place of safety.
In her asks to the government Ms Debbonnaire included calling for the visa application to be made safer. Many of our clients have experienced great barriers in making the application which includes attending appointments at the nearest visa office. This might be in an area that is unsafe, they might be forced to go through an area that is unsafe or travel to this office might simply be unaffordable.
As part of our service to our clients we recognise that being unable to afford to attend these appointments or the ones required to get passports issued or TB certificates required for the visa application could mean that obtaining a visa is simply not affordable. Whilst the visa itself is free the process of obtaining it is most certainly not.
Many MPs also called for the rights to family reunion to be extended to citizens. Many refugee seek citizenship as part of resettling in the UK unaware that this removes their right to family reunion as a refugee. Our clients who have done this, or who have simply been granted a form of status other than refugee status, have had to fund visa applications themselves with costs running into many hundreds of pounds. One of our clients ‘Claude’ who was in work was forced to wait years in between bringing his daughters over.
We support all the proposals put forward in this debate and feel that they would remove unnecessary hardship for our clients in the process they go through before they come to us.
What we would add is that once the visas for a family is granted the struggle is not over. Families who have been allowed to travel to the UK are granted ‘UK entry visas’. These have an allowed entry period of 30 days. For families that are surviving on next to nothing whilst supporting family back home the sudden need to arrange travel, sometimes for three, four, five people or more is just unacceptable.
Our clients are resourceful individuals who regularly demonstrate to us their commitment to being reunited with loved ones. What they are not able to do is come up with what can amount to hundreds or thousands of pounds at short notice. Whilst the Red Cross programme and in a much smaller part our service attempt to support all these families extending the entry period on the visas would allow them to be better able to support themselves through this process.
Our client ‘Abede’ sums this up:
“It would give more time to arrange for the air ticket if the validity of the visa was at least 60 days. When we got the visa we had 25 days and it took 15 days for another charity to tell us they couldn’t provide assistance.
Almost all refugees find it hard to cover the cost of the air ticket especially those with large families. It can be seen from my experience that there is no one to rely on and it would give more time for us to look into options if the visa was longer.
It is unimaginable to lose a visa for lack of transport money.”
Although the request in our briefing to MPs did not make it to this debate we will continue to campaign for change on this point.