I believe we need effective action to alleviate the refugee crisis by upholding our moral obligations and taking our fair share of refugees. I share constituents’ concerns regarding the reunification of families and as such I fully support the Private Member’s Refugee Family Reunion Bill. I was unfortunately not called to speak at the debate on 16th March, to share concerns about the efficiency of the processes in place for those who are entitled to join family in the UK, particularly children, and that more needs to be done to reunite families.
It is a perverse situation where children are brought up in our care system, instead of being reunited to live together in the UK with close family who currently live in danger abroad. We know that unaccompanied migrant children are highly vulnerable to trafficking, sexual exploitation and other forms of abuse.
In the last Parliament, during the passage of the Immigration Act 2016, a number of attempts were made to review the rules around family reunion for refugees including options for extending the criteria. It is incredibly disappointing that the Government rejected these proposals and reiterated that it has no plans to extend the family reunion criteria.
If a child refugee has been granted the right to be here, I support that right also being granted to their parents or carers. I also believe that children who grew up in this country with a parent who has a right to be here, should be allowed this right even after they turn 18. This would allow child refugees to be reunited with their families, and end the terrible practice of deporting children who grew up in the UK to countries which they often know nothing about.
I have also added my name to a letter sent to the Immigration Minister, which calls on the Government to amend our immigration rules for family reunion. We request an extended definition of family to ensure that our response to the crisis focuses on our responsibility to protect vulnerable children and prevent dangerous journeys to Europe. The letter calls on the Government to reinstate legal aid for refugee family reunion cases to ensure vulnerable children get the right support and therefore the right decision on their application.
I voted in favour of the Bill and I am delighted it passed its second reading with cross-party support. I will be monitoring this issue closely.