A group of four organisations are urging the UK government to change the rules around reuniting refugee families as a way of offering a safe haven to more vulnerable people.
The government claimed local authorities didn’t have the capacity to support any more unaccompanied children to come to the UK when it announced earlier this month that it would be ending the Dubs amendment scheme introduced last year to welcome some of the thousands living in squalid refugee camps in Europe. Only 350 children will benefit from the scheme.
In the report Together Again: reuniting refugee families in safety, Oxfam, the British Refugee Council, the British Red Cross and Amnesty International point out that by changing its restrictive policy, allowing those granted refugee status in the UK to bring only their spouse or children under the age of 18 to the country, the UK government could offer sanctuary to more vulnerable refugees, supported by their family members. For example, refugee children could be supported by their adult siblings, grandparents, aunts or uncles who already live in the UK, thereby taking pressure off local authorities.
That would include children like 15 year-old Sharif who fled Afghanistan when all his immediate family members were killed and hoped to come to the UK to reunite with his aunt. He was shot at and jailed during a six month journey through Iran and Turkey and is now stuck in a refugee camp in Greece.
Mark Goldring, Oxfam’s Chief Executive, said: “The UK Government first tried to ignore the refugee crisis in Europe and then seemed more focused on deterring people in need from coming to the UK rather than offering a safe haven. Many people were shocked when the Government rowed back from the Dubs amendment's promise on unaccompanied children.
“So much suffering could have been avoided if the government had adopted more humane measures.
“We’re calling on the UK authorities to change their restrictive policies, keep families together and save many more children and other vulnerable refugees from the squalor and danger of camps like the one that emerged in Calais.”
The agencies lay out twelve recommendations for the UK Government to make it easier for families to reunite and protect vulnerable refugees, including:
· expanding the criteria of who qualifies as a family member to include siblings, young adults dependent on the family unit, parents, in-laws, and other dependent relatives, · allowing an expanded group of extended family members including adult siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents to sponsor child relatives to join them where it is deemed in the child’s best interests and · allowing unaccompanied children granted refugee status in the UK to bring family members here under the family reunion policy
British Refugee Council Chief Executive Maurice Wren said: “It’s a fact that war and persecution frequently divides refugee families so it’s utterly contemptible that heartless Government policies keep families apart regardless of the danger they may be in.
“No child should be prevented from growing up without their parents; no family should be forced to make impossible choices between spending a lifetime apart or placing their lives in the hands of smugglers.
“The Government must do much more to enable refugees to escape danger and rebuild their lives together with their loved ones in the UK.