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Wed, 30 September 2020

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If families are important to us why are we separating refugee children from theirs?

If families are important to us why are we separating refugee children from theirs?
3 min read

Ahead of Angus MacNeil’s Refugee Family Reunion Bill's second reading today, Labour MP Lisa Nandy calls for MPs to back the Bill and change the rules on reuniting refugees with their family members.

Among the many notable things written and said by Desmond Tutu are these observations on the importance of families: “You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”

For most of us, our family lies at the heart of everything we hold dear. It’s where we go for love, support, advice, validation and commiseration.

Not a politician in this land would dispute the central value of a loving family life. Yet when it comes to refugee families our current rules are driving a wedge between family members who should be together.

Presently, refugees who have been separated from their families continue to remain apart from their loved ones because of current restrictive UK laws on refugee family reunion.

So, for example, a child from Syria or Eritrea, already forced to leave their home because of conflict or persecution and everything that was familiar, is then confronted with the heart-breaking prospect of potentially never seeing their parents or siblings again.

Already dealing with the enormous challenge of adjusting to a new life in a new country, they are being forced to do so without the most important people in their lives.

The rules mean that a child who arrives in this country alone is unable to bring their parents or siblings over to join them. Leaving them permanently separated from their closest family members, or in some cases facing a life in care.

In the case of an adult refugee with, for example, children aged ten and 19, their 19-year-old child would be left behind, unable to join them and facing untold dangers.  

Just last week in Prime Minister’s Questions, Theresa May remarked on Britain’s “good and proud” record of providing a place of safety for people who’ve fled war and persecution.

Going back centuries, there is much truth in this. But in recent years, with conflict and suffering in places like Syria and Myanmar fuelling the world’s worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, Britain can no longer take pride in being a truly safe and compassionate place to seek refuge.

Today, Angus MacNeil’s Refugee Family Reunion Bill, set to have its second reading, has the power to change this. The bill would change the rules on reuniting refugees with their family members. It would also provide legal aid so that they could afford to navigate the complicated and expensive immigration process.

I’m proud to be backing this bill, over which there’s strong cross-party support.

All parties agree on the importance of family. And I dare say that all parliamentarians and members of the public will readily see the wisdom of Desmond Tutu’s comments on the gift of a loving family.

If we want to give refugees the best chance to rebuild their lives and contribute to our society, reuniting them with those they love isn’t just humane. It’s common sense.


Lisa Nandy is the Labour MP for Wigan


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