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British Red Cross calls for legal aid to be made available in refugee family reunion


New report says family reunion is not a straightforward process and the lack of legal aid is keeping loved ones apart

Date of Publication:

The British Red Cross has published a new report examining the impact of the removal of legal aid from refugee family reunion cases.

You can read the 41-page report, Not so straightforward: the need for qualified legal support, in refugee family reunion here.

The government withdrew legal aid for family reunion in 2012, describing it as a 'straightforward' process, but the British Red Cross says its research shows that it is really anything but simple and the lack of legal aid is keeping loved ones apart.

The report looks at 91 of the 250 family reunion cases which the British Red Cross assisted with last year.

A press release lists the following key points from the report:

Lives left in danger

• The vast majority – 95 per cent – of people waiting to come over to the UK were women and children. Meanwhile, some of those children (36 per cent) were living without a permanent carer or parent.

• To submit essential papers, families were required to travel to their nearest British embassy. For some, this meant journeys across areas of violence and armed conflict. Ninety-six per cent of people exposed to security risks like these were women and children.

• These delays left some family members in dangerous situations – which also drastically affected the well-being of those left anxiously waiting in the UK.

Struggle for evidence

• Most refugees (62 per cent) needed some English language support with their applications.

• 74 per cent of people were missing at least one form of required documentation, such as a birth or marriage certificate.

• In 23 per cent of cases, the reunion was with a stepchild or adopted child, causing extra legal and procedural difficulties.

Not simple at all

• Our report demonstrates that refugee family reunion is not straightforward.

• Refugee family reunion is about protecting lives, so it should be considered part of the asylum process – and not immigration.

• To bring their families to the UK, refugees need to fill out a complicated form – and they have to do this on their own, without any professional help.

• Only qualified legal advisers can deal with the many significant complexities that arise during the process.

The British Red Cross recommends a simpler and safer refugee family reunion process, with help to cover the cost of legal fees, and calls on the government to find a way to publicly fund legal providers, so they can give free legal advice to refugees seeking family reunion.

The Refugee Council backed the British Red Cross' recommendation.

Refugee Council Policy Manager Judith Dennis said: "It's completely unacceptable that the government refuses to provide the necessary help to refugees to bring their family members here safely. They should be as appalled as us to hear that family members are having to put themselves in danger simply to do what most of us take for granted, to live with your family in peace and safety."