Reports calls on the Home Office to make visa application process safer and more accessible
New British Red Cross report finds too many families face risks and difficulties applying for refugee family reunion visas
16 November 2020
The British Red Cross last week released a new report on the risks that people have to take during the application process for a refugee family reunion visa.
The 40-page report can be downloaded here.
The British Red Cross explained: "This report focuses on a key part of the application process for a family reunion visa, when the family members overseas must access a UK Embassy or Visa Application Centre (VAC) to complete the submission of an application and then later to collect their decision. We conclude that, instead of being a safe route to reunion, for too many families this process puts people in danger."
For the report, the British Red Cross surveyed 100 refugees living in the UK about their family members' experiences of applying for a family reunion visa. In addition, nine in-depth interviews with reunited families were conducted.
According to the British Red Cross, while some families experienced a relatively straightforward journey to a visa application centre, nearly half of those surveyed said they faced difficult journeys.
The report states: "Some had to come out of hiding in order to make a journey fraught with danger. For those who had to cross conflict zones or closed borders, the protection concerns escalated. Many travelled through areas with checkpoints controlled by opposition groups, militia or authorities, and each time they had to show their identity they feared the very real risk of being captured or detained. Applicants also faced significant barriers and dangers due to current procedural requirements. In 2019, almost two thirds of refugee family reunion visas in the UK were granted to relatives from Eritrea, Sudan, Iran and Syria - all countries where travelling to a VAC usually presents serious dangers."
The report adds: "Risks ranged from long journeys undertaken over difficult terrain with children, to sexual violence, to having to rely on smugglers to cross closed borders, to borrowing money from black market lenders to fund travel."
The British Red Cross calls on the Home Office to implement the following four recommendations to make the visa application process safer and more accessible:
• Only require family members overseas to travel to a Visa Application Centre to submit their biometrics after a provisional positive decision has been made. Refusals should be sent by email and not require a journey to the Visa Application Centre.
• Be flexible in when and how biometrics are required to be submitted if a family is unable to reach a Visa Application Centre safely.
• Allow TB tests to be undertaken after family members have arrived in the UK, rather than requiring them in advance of travel.
• Allow flexibility of ID requirements for entering a Visa Application Centre and obtaining a TB certificate.
Jon Featonby, Refugee and Asylum Policy Manager at the British Red Cross, said: "Refugee family reunion is currently one of the only safe and legal ways for families separated by war, persecution and violence to be reunited with their loved ones. Yet, as our report shows, too many families face incredible risks and difficulties to make this happen.
"We welcome the Home Secretary's recent proposal for more safe and legal routes. But we must also address how the existing routes need to be made safer. We urge the Home Office to action the recommendations in our report, so people don't have to make dangerous journeys to escape the same horrors their family fled, and to be able to hug them again."