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Oxfam and the Refugee Council examine the impact of family separation on refugees in the UK

Date of Publication: 
1 February 2018

Report calls on the UK to expand criteria for family reunion and to reinstate legal aid for cases

Oxfam and the Refugee Council examine the impact of family separation on refugees in the UK

01 February 2018

A new report published jointly by Oxfam and the Refugee Council yesterday looks at how family reunion and ongoing forced separation from loved ones affect the ability of refugees to successfully integrate into UK society.

The 36-page report, Safe but not settled: The impact of family separation on refugees in the UK, can be read here.

The cases of 44 resettled refugee families were examined for the report and while some of the families were able to reunite, "few of the stories in this report have had happy endings. For the vast majority of families included in the research sample, the struggle to see their loved ones again dominates their lives."

Oxfam and the Refugee Council say their research details cases of refugees becoming desperate, and even suicidal, because of the distress caused by UK Government rules which prevent families from being reunited.

Under the current family reunion rules, the UK only allows adult refugees to apply for their partners (married or civil) and dependent children under 18 who were part of their nuclear family before they fled their homes. Grandparents, parents, siblings and children over 18 are not eligible.

The report calls on the UK Government to expand the criteria for who qualifies as a 'family member' for the purposes of refugee family reunion. Oxfam and the Refugee Council found that in three-quarters of the 44 cases examined, separated family members were not eligible for refugee family reunion under the UK's existing immigration rules.

The report also calls on the Government to reintroduce legal aid for refugee family reunion cases.

As the report notes, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 took refugee family reunion out of the scope of legal aid because the government considered it a 'straightforward immigration matter'. Yet many cases of refugee family reunion are complex and often require the expertise and experience of legal advisors. Oxfam and the Refugee Council say the cost of legal representation is likely to be prohibitive for many, if not most, refugee families.

In one of the cases featured in the report, an Eritrean woman explained how she has been unable to reunite with her children as she faces a major difficulty in finding the money needed to pay for legal advice and an interpreter.

"When I think of my children, I am always sad and I cannot enjoy life or take any part in anything … I'm doing my best but I can't fully concentrate on anything I do, all the time I am stressed thinking about the day when I will be reunited with my children. At this moment because of not enough money I cannot travel to Ethiopia to see them but I … hope that they can join me, [that] will be a special day for me", the woman is quoted as saying.

A debate in the House of Commons next month will consider changes to the family reunion rules and the Refugee Council requests that people contact their MP via here and ask them to attend the debate.