Refugees (Family Reunion) (No.2) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:33 am on 16th March 2018.

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Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Climate Justice) 11:33 am, 16th March 2018

I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Lady, and if it had not been for those volunteers, it is likely that the number dying would have been far greater.

Legal aid has not been available for refugee family reunions since 2012, which makes it even more difficult for families to reunite. A recent report by Oxfam and the Refugee Council highlighted the negative effects of those rules on refugee families. Evidence found overwhelmingly that reuniting refugee families gives them the best chance of living settled and fulfilling lives—I am sure no one in this House would not want that. Separation can have a devastating impact on refugees, their recovery from traumatic experiences, and their ability to integrate and adapt to their country of asylum.

This Bill has cross-party support and seeks to do three things. I will describe those things succinctly because some people clearly do not understand what the Bill is about. First, it expands the criteria for who can qualify as a family member, so that young people who have turned 18, and elderly parents, can live in safety with their families in the UK. It will also give unaccompanied refugee children in the UK the right to sponsor their close family, so that they can rebuild their lives together in their new community. Lastly, and simply, it will introduce legal aid, so that refugees who have lost everything can afford to navigate the complicated process of reuniting with their families.

I am proud that Scotland has a long history of welcoming refugees from all over the world. Over the past two years, communities across Scotland have demonstrated their compassion and understanding by welcoming more than 2,000 Syrian refugees, one of whom—Kawa from Afrin—I mentioned in the Chamber on Monday. I heard comments earlier today that refugees are driven by incentive. Well, here is an incentive: on Tuesday that same person, Kawa, heard from his family in Afrin district that both his cousin and uncle have been killed. If that is an incentive, we should recognise that it is one we all share. Such things are why people become refugees in the first place.

We have a welcome saying in Scotland: “We are all Jock Tamson’s bairns,” and I remind the Chamber that Scotland is not full up. At its heart, family reunion is about keeping loved ones together—that simple yearning that we all have to be with our mum, dad, son or daughter. Family reunion is also a safe and legal route to protection that refugees can pursue in order to bring loved ones to the UK. The current UK system for reuniting refugee families is needlessly stacked against those who need it. We need to introduce some humanity into the system, and the Bill does just that.

Last night, after going out for some light refreshment with some of my colleagues, I was on my way back home. I was at Liverpool Street station, and anybody who stops for a moment there will see the bronze statue of Frank Meisler’s Kindertransport children, which is about British values. Some 10,000 children came over here during the second world war, fleeing persecution and terror in Nazi Germany. Today, we are talking about several hundred children—surely we are up to such a job.