amnesty report child refugees
Photograph: UNICEF

‘Without my Family’: Report Published Following Vote on Child Refugee Family Reunification

Last week, ImmiNews reported on a House of Commons vote which saw an abominable 348 MPs vote against enshrining Family Reunification legislation in the Brexit Withdrawal Bill.

Since then, a new report by Amnesty International UK, Refugee Council and Save the Children has revealed the damaging and callous nature of the UK’s restrictive policy surrounding child refugees.

The report, titled ‘Without My Family: The Impact of Family Separation on Child Refugees in the UK’, includes testimonies from children who have experienced first-hand the isolation and brutalities of seeking refuge alone, as well as interviews with social workers and legal representatives who have worked closely alongside refugee children.

It seeks to shed light on the ways in which the UK government is failing in its obligation to protect vulnerable children and the detrimental impact of denying a child the right to family reunification.

To recognise that adult refugees ought to have a right to family reunification, while denying this right for children in the same vulnerable position, is entirely illogical

Providing insight into the array of factors which can lead children to seek asylum alone crucially reinforces that this is often a last resort – a decision which is not taken lightly by family members and which is done solely with the intention of providing the child with a greater chance of survival, stability and security.

Many children initially flee to countries closer to their countries of origin however this can create issues of its own and can leave children in ‘precarious or even hostile situations’, putting their safety at risk.

The UK government is failing in its obligation to protect vulnerable children

While UK immigration law recognises the importance of adult refugees being reunited with their families, the same is, shamefully, not applied to children. In comparison to all other EU countries, the UK has the most restrictive policies on the rights of child refugees to be joined by close family, often falling short of its obligations under international law.

The only means by which a child refugee can apply for family reunion in the UK is by doing so outside of the Immigration Rules, relying on the ‘exceptional or compassionate circumstances’ aspect of the Home Office’s policy.

However, research presented shows that despite the growing numbers of people seeking asylum in Europe, just 65 family reunion visas were granted outside of the Immigration Rules between 2013 and 2015. This suggests that child refugees in the UK are predominantly excluded from family reunion rights.

Refugees are made to evacuate makeshift camps in Greece. [Image: CNN]

Little consideration is given to the dire risks such policies pose for children who are unable to reunite with their family once they have found refuge in the UK. Habib, a 17-year old from Sudan, described what it felt like to be without his family: “Family is life. Being without your family, it is like you have a body without a soul”.

In comparison to all other EU countries, the UK has the most restrictive policies on the rights of child refugees to be joined by close family

Child refugees often battle with the guilt and conflict of having found physical safety in the UK but despairing for their family who still remain in their country of origin.

The report recalls how professionals have stressed the importance of ‘every day practices of family life’ and how they are able to ‘psychologically protect the child’ from the traumatic experiences they have endured.

“Family is life. Being without your family, it is like you have a body without a soul”

Habib, aged 17, from Sudan

When child refugees in the UK are forced to live life without their families, it amplifies their vulnerabilities and puts them at risk of difficulties in ‘integrating, building relationships and adapting to their new life’ as well as leading to psychiatric issues such as depression, anxiety and psychosis.

Devastatingly, this can also expose these children to criminal and sexual exploitation as they are more susceptible to forming a sense of belonging with dangerous individuals.

Overall, the report highlights the shameful failures of the UK government to protect those who need our help the most. To recognise that adult refugees ought to have a right to family reunification, while denying this right for children in the same vulnerable position, is entirely illogical.

The government’s pitiful attempts at justifying the absence of family reunion rights for child refugees have been scrutinised time and time again by human rights bodies, parliamentarians and Immigration Tribunal judges.

[Header image by UNICEF]

Written by
Holly Barrow
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