Angus MacNeil: We can end this injustice – and give refugee children the right to a family life

Posted On: 
12th March 2018

The Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill is not about party politics – it is simply a question of humanity and compassion, writes Angus MacNeil

A Parliament Square rally in support of the children of Calais. "Restrictive rules are keeping refugee families apart," Angus MacNeil writes
Credit: 
PA

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which recognised that the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

There is one fundamental right that we in the UK often take for granted; the right to a family life. It is recognised in a variety of international human rights instruments, including Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Currently, restrictive rules are keeping refugee families apart meaning they have no hope of a family life, as some of their most vulnerable members – their children – are left alone in the UK.

More than half of the world’s refugees are children; young people who, having fled horrors unimaginable to most of us, are searching for ways to rebuild their lives. But for many of these children the future looks bleak, clouded with fear and doubt. This is because the current rules around family reunion do not adequately protect the rights of these children, which is why I brought forward a Private Members’ Bill to address this unjustifiable inequality.

The Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill is not about party politics – it is simply a question of humanity and compassion. We have an opportunity to positively change the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people – families forced to flee their homes due to conflict or persecution seeking sanctuary in another country.

In the course of these dangerous and often traumatic journeys, many families become separated and, in some cases, children can arrive in the UK only to find themselves permanently separated from their parents and siblings with no idea if they will ever see them again.

Although there is a perception that reaching Britain ensures they are safe and secure, these children are some of the most vulnerable in the country. Arriving alone, they face myriad challenges from the practicalities of setting up a home in a completely new culture, to acquiring English language skills to allow them to communicate with the world around them.

A young Syrian man named Anas who arrived in this country four years ago as a child refugee separated from his parents and siblings recently told me that one of the most challenging aspects of adapting to life in the UK was learning to do things for himself such as cook and clean.

Of course, practical skills can be difficult to develop but at the same time most of these children are trying to recover from incredibly traumatic experiences both in their home countries and as they travelled routes which are often not safe or legal in the hope of reaching a place of safety.

The psychological effects they suffer are often compounded by continuing separation from their loved ones and coming to terms with the heart-breaking prospect that they may never see their parents or siblings again.

Had I not brought this Bill forward, I am sure another MP would have done – this fundamental injustice being suffered by children speaks to us all and I am hopeful we can work together across the floor in Westminster to effect positive change in family reunion rules.

The Bill would secure three things:

  • Child refugees in the UK would have the right to sponsor their close family to come to the UK, so they can rebuild their lives together and help them integrate in their new community
  • An expansion of who qualifies as a family, so that young people who have turned 18, and elderly parents, can live in safety with their families in the UK
  • The reintroduction of legal aid, so refugees who have lost everything have the support they need to navigate the complicated process of being reunited with their families

I implore MPs of all parties to join me on March 16th and support the Bill 

Angus MacNeil is SNP MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar and chair of the International Trade select committee. The second reading of the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill is on Friday 16 March.