Juliet Stevenson on International Day of Families
By Juliet Stevenson
Two of the greatest days of my life were the days my children were born. Becoming their mother changed my perception of the world. And like most parents, since the moment they arrived my overriding objective has been to do my best for them, give them the tools for life that I can, guide, support and love them always. Their company and their wellbeing sits right at the centre of my life, and I can’t imagine that life without them.
For most people, family lies at the heart of everything we hold dear, and where we define ourselves.
Today is International Day of Families and a day for us to celebrate these relationships, and all the experiences that make up family life - whether important, casual, conflictual, loving, challenging, domestic or just daft. But these are the moments that child refugees separated from their families and living in the UK miss every day.
Current rules in this country prevent child refugees who live here from reuniting with their parents. Children who have been forced to flee their homes, leaving everything they know behind, just to escape the horrors of war and find a place of safety. But just being here in the UK does not mean they are always living safely, happily or without fear. For many child refugees in the UK, safety from conflict has come at a heavy price.
With their parents prevented from being with them these children end up alone in the UK, facing a life in the care system with little hope of reuniting with their family.
Children need their parents. I cannot imagine the pain and sadness mothers feel being kept apart from their children, or the loneliness and fear these children face, the worry of being without their mum, dad, brother or sister.
Already dealing with the enormous challenge of adjusting to a new life in a new country – facing language barriers, anxiety and uncertainty - they are now being forced to do so without the most important people in their lives.
It is heart-breaking yet completely avoidable.
A small change to the UK’s rule on reuniting refugee families is all we need. It is in the UK’s power to take children out of this nightmare. Amnesty UK and the Families Together coalition have been pushing hard for this change. MPs from across the political spectrum have stood together in Parliament and demanded to see an end to the rules that condemn child refugees, fleeing conflict and persecution, to live in the UK without their parents. But since the private members bill on refugee family reunion was first voted through the Government has dragged its heels and blocked the bill from progressing.
The responsibility lies with the Home Secretary, who could change the rules with the stroke of a pen. And instantly change the lives of child refugees alone in this country.
If we want to give refugees the best chance to rebuild their lives, reuniting people with those they love isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s common sense. By changing these rules the Home Secretary can right a wrong and further demonstrate the UK’s commitment to family values. With his help we can bring families together.
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