Alistair Carmichael MP: Refugee families divided by lines of Home Office rule book

Posted On: 
9th June 2016

The Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael writes for PoliticsHome ahead of his debate today, questioning the Government’s refugee family reunion system that is tearing families apart.

"The Government’s rules are keeping loved ones apart and forcing refugee children to live separated from their parents."
Credit: 
Gregorio Borgia/AP

Imagine that you have had to flee your home because of a repressive government. Imagine that you’ve then faced a long, life-threatening journey to reach a country where you are able to apply for asylum. Imagine going through an extensive, bureaucratic asylum system and eventually experiencing elation at being granted refugee status.

Then imagine being denied the right to bring your family members to come and join you, or facing the invidious choice of only being able to be joined by some of your very closest relatives, but not others.

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This is exactly what the current refugee family reunion system operated by the UK Government is doing. Just when family members need each other the most, they are kept apart, divided by a few lines in the Home Office’s rule book.

Under the current rules, adult refugees in the UK can apply to sponsor their spouse/partner and their dependent children who are under the age of 18. If the application is successful—and nearly half of the time they are not—then their family members can travel to the UK to join them.

But other family members are not so lucky. Elderly parents, nephews, nieces, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles are all excluded. So too are adult children, even if they are barely adults.

For example, the rules mean that a Syrian father granted asylum in the UK would be allowed to bring his wife and younger children, who may have previously been sleeping several families to a house in Lebanon, to join him. Yet his eldest child, a 19 year old daughter, would not ordinarily be able to also come. Her parents would be faced with the choice of either leaving her behind or seeking to pay smugglers to bring her to the UK. In either scenario, she is at grave risk.

The rules also prevent refugee children, alone in the UK, from acting as sponsors so that their parents can join them. These are children with refugee status, who have been found by the UK Government to be unable to return home because they would not be safe, who are then denied the opportunity to live with their parents.

The Government’s rules are keeping loved ones apart and forcing refugee children to live separated from their parents. This is why I am pleased to have been able to secure a debate on these rules so that MPs from all parties can send the message that we must inject some compassion into the way we treat refugee families.  Hopefully, it is a message ministers will hear.