The UK must be a place of sanctuary for refugees
My Bill would enable child refugees to bring their parents and siblings to join them in the UK, as well as allowing adult refugees to be joined by their children.
Imagine what it must be like to be a child refugee alone in the UK. Forced to flee your home to escape war, conflict or persecution. Separated from your parents and the rest of your family. Trying to start again in a strange new land, where you don’t know anyone.
These are some of the most vulnerable people in the world, and we must do all we can to protect them and help them build their lives in safety. That should include reuniting them with their families where possible.
Allowing refugees to sponsor close family members to join them here is a crucial, safe way for those who have been separated from their loved ones to be reunited. But in the UK, only adult refugees can do it – and they are only allowed to bring their spouse or partner and under-18 children to join them.
Unlike every EU country except Denmark, the UK does not allow unaccompanied refugee children to sponsor family members to join them. Nor do we allow parents to be reunited with their children, if those children are over 18.
The UK is at its best when we welcome refugees and treat all seekers of sanctuary with dignity and compassion
These arbitrary rules leave families divided, and prevent people from holding their loved ones again, having already experienced the immense trauma of fleeing their homes. Being kept apart from their parents can be incredibly damaging for young refugees. As one says, “I am unable to concentrate on my studies, and when I go home I always think about them. At night, I do not sleep.”
“It is a difficult time and it is not a time of peace,” explains another refugee, an ambassador for the VOICES Network of refugees and asylum seekers. “You live in fear, worrying and not knowing what is going to happen to your family.”
This is neither right nor fair, and it prevents the proper settlement and integration of refugees which benefits us all. So I’m seeking to change it.
On Tuesday, I am introducing a Private Members’ Bill in the House of Lords that would enable child refugees to bring their parents and siblings to join them in the UK, as well as allowing adult refugees to be joined by their dependent children over 18.
My Bill is backed by the Families Together Coalition – a group of leading organisations, including the British Red Cross, UNICEF, the Children’s Society and the Refugee Council, that support refugees and people seeking asylum.
It continues the proud British tradition of providing sanctuary to those in need: from the 10,000 Jewish children rescued from the horrors of the Holocaust through 'Kindertransport' to the Tamils escaping civil war in Sri Lanka and the Bosnians fleeing genocide in the ’90s to the Syrians displaced by the ongoing violence there.
It builds on a similar Bill introduced by my Liberal Democrat colleague Baroness Hamwee in 2017, which the House of Lords passed in 2018. That Bill sadly wasn’t given time to be debated in the House of Commons, but I’m hoping we can go further this time and finally get these crucial changes onto the statute book.
Providing safe and legal routes to sanctuary in the UK, including refugee family reunion, is not just the compassionate, humane thing to do. It is also the best way to prevent desperate people from making dangerous attempts to cross the Channel or the Mediterranean.
The lack of safe and legal routes is what gives the people smugglers and human traffickers their power and fuels their profits. Providing these routes is how we can tackle these criminal gangs and stop them being able to prey on vulnerable refugees.
The UK is at its best when we welcome refugees and treat all seekers of sanctuary with dignity and compassion. Sadly, this Conservative government is turning its back on refugees and failing to live up to our obligations to them – with Priti Patel’s plans to make it much harder to claim asylum here the latest cruel example.
If we can pass this Bill and expand refugee family reunion rights, we can start heading in the right direction again.
Baroness Ludford is a Liberal Democrat peer.