Refugees (Family Reunion) (No.2) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:50 am on 16th March 2018.

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Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment and Rural Affairs), Chair, International Trade Committee 9:50 am, 16th March 2018

Legal aid is already available in Scotland. I am glad to hear what the hon. Lady says, but the approaches are not mutually exclusive. If she welcomes that review, she should certainly welcome the Bill. I will personally escort her through the Lobby later, if need be.

The Bill would allow loved ones to be together, and clause 1 does just that. It asks that a statement of changes to the immigration rules be laid before both Houses, setting out the rules for refugee family reunion. In responses to debates on family reunion in both this Chamber and the Lords, Ministers have expressed their belief that the immigration rules are the best place for these provisions, rather than in primary legislation. The Bill acknowledges that, which is why it operates in this way. The Minister may say that I am still attempting to use primary legislation to amend the rules, but as she is aware, there is no other way for a non-Minister to effect a change to those rules. If, however, the Minister would like to intervene to say that the Bill is unnecessary and that those sat on the Treasury Bench plan to bring forward a statement of changes to reflect its provisions, I will gladly give way.

Clause 1 sets out the relationships that would be covered by refugee family reunion. It includes those who already have a right and expands that in several important ways. There is a very long list of relationships that I could have put in the Bill. Right hon. and hon. Members could probably spend the entire debate thinking of distant relatives who, had we been forced to leave our homes and communities because of a vicious, deadly conflict, we would like to think we could bring with us to safety, but I have focused on some of the most egregious examples that are not covered by the existing rules.

As I explained earlier, under the existing rules, a parent who has been recognised as a refugee in the UK can sponsor their children under the age of 18 to join them, but if their child has turned 18, they are not automatically eligible. Muhammed is a former lawyer from Syria. He arrived in the UK and was recognised as a refugee after applying for asylum. He immediately began the process of applying for family reunion so that his wife Amal and their children could live with him in safety in the United Kingdom. Devastatingly, the family were forced to leave behind their two eldest children, a son and a daughter, because they were over 18. Muhammed told the British Red Cross:

“We are a very close family;
our bonds are very special…My little kids ask me every day: ‘Baba, what happened with Kusai and Athar? When will they join us? When will we see them and talk to them?’
I truly have no idea and don’t know what to tell them.”

The Minister may argue that the Government have recognised that children in such circumstances should be eligible, and point to the family reunion guidance that was updated in summer 2016. That guidance provided clearer direction to Home Office caseworkers on the types of cases in which family reunion may be granted in exceptional circumstances. At the top of the list are cases in which children over the age of 18 are still dependent on their parents. Despite those changes, though, we learned last year that in the first nine months of 2017, only 49 people were granted family reunion in exceptional circumstances. My Bill would move that group of children into the main body of the rules. If the Government accept the principle that such children should be eligible to be reunited, as they do in the guidance, I hope that they will support at least that element of the Bill.