Addis looks into the camera

16 September 2021

A new bill could change the unfair rules that keep refugee families apart. If Baroness Ludford’s Private Member’s Bill passes, the narrow rules for who qualifies for family reunion would be expanded, bringing together loved ones torn apart by war and violence when they need each other the most. Write to your MP to make sure the bill’s on their agenda.

Addis’ story

Addis has been without her husband and daughter for 13 years. She arrived in the UK from Eritrea in 2008, when her daughter was just five years old. Though she claimed asylum when she arrived, she has only just been granted it, enduring years of waiting alone.

Speaking about her daughter is extremely painful for Addis. She says,

My daughter, when I left she was 5 years old and now she is 19. I don’t know where she is, that’s why it was important I got the paper. It broke my mind, I have pain, a lot of pain. Every day I remember her because many times I asked for a family reunion but it wasn’t possible without paper.’

Like Addis, many refugees in the UK are separated from their families following the brutal experiences of conflict or persecution that forced them to flee. Being reunited with family members can be a life changing moment, but the current rules only allow adults to sponsor their very closest relatives – ignoring the reality that families come in all shapes and sizes. 

During the long wait for asylum, because she was not allowed to work, Addis was left to rely on charities for daily essentials like housing and food. Addis often had to move home throughout the UK, because living in government accommodation means that people seeking asylum cannot choose where they live, and do not have the right to rent a home of their choosing. 

Addis says, ‘I waited 13 years. I am tired. Everyone has a family, everyone wants to work, this is why we need a quick decision’. Being together as a family helps people integrate into the UK and rebuild their lives. Without this support system, they’re put at risk of suffering from anxiety, depression, guilt, and social isolation.

Finding Addis’ daughter has proved very hard. She says, 

I asked organisations for help, they have looked 3 times at the Sudan border but they haven’t found her. No one knows where she is. I am tired. The last time I spoke with her was in 2009. My auntie told me how sad she was, in pain and crying for me a lot. I want to try and travel to Ethiopia and Sudan to see if I can find her. One judge asked me why I left her behind. She has many problems with her heart which is why I didn’t bring her.’

Addis’ daughter would now be 19 – one year too old to qualify for reunion. Because Addis had to wait so long for a decision on her asylum application, her daughter has now fallen outside of the family reunion rules. Addis says, ‘I’m scared I won’t find her, I am very stressed about this. If I don’t find my daughter what do you do next? It’s very painful. It’s very hard.’

Families belong together

Children who are in the UK alone with refugee status have no right to be reunited with any family members. Adult refugees in the UK can only sponsor their spouse or partner and children under the age of 18 to join them. Separated family members who don’t meet these narrow rules are forced to choose between staying in a dangerous place or making an unregulated and potentially very dangerous journey to reunite with their family.

In 2012, the government stopped access to legal aid for refugee family reunion cases. Legal aid is financial assistance to pay for a lawyer – this is essential for refugees trying to navigate an unfamiliar system, in a language they may be unfamiliar with, without the support of their families. These rules need to change.

  • Parents should be reunited with their adult dependent children because a child who is dependent on their parents doesn’t simply stop being so because they reach age 18.
  • Unaccompanied children must be reunited with their families because being reunited with close family is a way to ensure the welfare and safety of child refugees in the UK.
  • Legal aid should be reintroduced for refugee family reunion cases because refugees must navigate complex legal processes and immigration rules while enduring lengthy separation from loved ones and the many harms which this can cause. 

Take action: write to your MP

We need to change the family reunion rules so that parents like Addis can sponsor their children over 18 to join them in the UK. Families belong together, children need their parents. An upcoming bill, if passed, will allow more refugee families to be reunited in safety in the UK. On Friday 10 September, the bill was read in Parliament.

We need to write to our MPs to ask them to support the bill – we can’t assume it’s already on their agenda.

What would the bill do?

  1. Expand the criteria of who qualifies as a family member for the purposes of refugee family reunion
  2. Give unaccompanied refugee children in the United Kingdom the right to sponsor their family members to join them under the refugee family reunion rules
  3. Reintroduce legal aid for refugee family reunion cases.

Existing family reunion rights for refugees are currently threatened by the Nationality and Borders Bill. That’s why this Private Members Bill is so important, because it would expand these rights, not reduce them.

The current situation in Afghanistan clearly highlights why we need an effective and fair asylum system that is ready to respond to situations that force people to flee their homes. Family reunion means that people can travel safely to be with their loved ones and rebuild their lives, rather than being forced to take alternative dangerous journeys.

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