Guest blog by The VOICES Network UK
Since 2017, the Families Together Coalition has been working hard to ensure refugee families are not ripped apart.
With all the work that we do, we know that the rules at the UK Home Office to separate refugees from their families are deeply unfair – and the immigration plan announced by the Government on 24 March will make it harder for refugees in the UK to reunite with their loved ones. We are calling for the Home Secretary to change this.
As you know, refugees face unconscionable challenges in their journey to seek asylum and for those seeking asylum in the UK, receiving refugee status does not mean that ‘normal life’ will resume.
When fleeing persecution, conflict, and insecurity, many refugees are forcibly separated from their families. One would hope that this separation is temporary but sadly that is not always the case.
Receiving refugee status does not always mark the end of a journey – instead, it is the beginning of a long journey to family reunion.
This is the experience based under current rules – they are already restrictive and challenging – but with the Home Office’s New Plan for Immigration plan, the UK government will make it much worse, and many people will be denied the right to family reunion.
It’s a long road to reunite families and it starts with having enough money because the costs can be extremely high from lawyer fees (legal aid was cut in the UK in 2013) to accommodation, maintenance, and travel.
Separated from his wife and young children, Abrehaley recounts “I had no money to immediately start the reunification process. I had to find a job to support my family and save money to pay for their travel costs to Ethiopia, and maintenance during their stay whilst waiting to receive a family reunion visa. I also had no money to pay for a solicitor”.
A report by Families Together and commissioned by the Red Cross ‘Cuts That Cost’ reveals the impact of UK legal aid cuts on refugees.
Challenges of the Visa Application Process
A lot of families are in places of conflict or insecurity, and many are forced into dangerous situations, just to complete the current UK visa application process.
Haile was forced to flee Eritrea, leaving behind his wife and two children. When trying to apply for a family reunion visa, Haile’s wife had faced many restrictions from the Eritrean government. She then had to travel to Sudan to reach a British Embassy.
The journey wasn’t easy, as Haile recounts “I had to pay a smuggler to assist my family to cross the then highly militarized, risky, and dangerous route. Many Eritrean refugees lost their lives in the border crossing and some of them were trafficked. My wife was alone with young children in the hands of a smuggler - anything could have happened to them.”
Mada, a refugee from Syria, also experienced issues accessing a family reunion visa, shockingly she received her visa the day before it was due to expire. Clearly, there was not enough time to book flights and arrange an exit visa to leave the country. Instead, Mada had to reapply for the family reunion visa, which took another three months before she and her children could travel to safety in the UK.
According to Mada “this happened because of the complexity of the system; our application and the paperwork moved between the UK Embassies in Egypt and Jordan”.
Errors like this have major consequences when it comes to people’s lives. We need the UK government to recognise the problems within the system and improve the way families are reunited.
It’s a Long Road to Reunion and this Red Cross report reveals the challenges refugee families face to reunite with loved ones.
The situation is worse for child refugees
Under the UK law, unaccompanied child refugees are not allowed to sponsor their parents or siblings to join them in the UK.
These children have experienced extreme trauma, distress, and suffering and they are then forced to rebuild their lives in the UK without the love and support of their family.
Merhawi, 14 years old was forced to leave behind his mother, two brothers, and sister, when he fled forced military conscription in Eritrea. He received refugee status in the UK, but the past few years have been extremely tough for him – “It has been four years since I was separated from my family. I get support from the Social Services, but they cannot replace the love I could get from my family”.
We cannot ignore that child refugees are exactly that – children – and yet the current UK rules prevent them from being able to live like children.
A report by Amnesty International, the Refugee Council and Save The Children ‘Without My Family' exposes the damning impact of the UK Government policy, which prevents child refugees from being reunited with their families
We need to act now. Please support the Families Together campaign and sign our petition.