Refugees (Family Reunion) (No.2) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:25 pm on 16th March 2018.

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Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Chair, Home Affairs Committee 12:25 pm, 16th March 2018

It is a pleasure to follow Will Quince, who cares immensely deeply about these issues. During the course of my speech, I hope to persuade him that this Bill should pass its Second Reading and that any concerns he may have should be dealt with in Committee, as that would be an opportunity to improve the Bill further.

This Bill is about putting family at the heart of the asylum and refugee system. Family is something that we all care about immensely. In our house, my family is in a state of greater chaos than normal at the moment because Ed, who does all the cooking, is currently several hundred miles in one direction, while our 18-year-old daughter is several hundred miles in the other direction on her first trip abroad alone. Although they are in safe places and I know that they will come home very soon, a part of me is away with them too. I keep checking my phone, particularly to make sure that my daughter is okay. That is what we all do with our families, who are immensely important to us all the time.

But this Bill is about what happens when people’s families are not safe and when they are not going to come home again because they cannot. It is about what happens when families have to go through the most awful things in the world: when they have to watch a parent being murdered or a child being raped; when they have to flee their homes because their neighbours’ homes have been bombed; when they have to make the most difficult journeys, and face exploitation, trafficking and abuse along the way; and when, somewhere along that journey, the family get split up. We know that this happens to so many refugees and we also know that it is in those times—when we face the worst of humanity—that we need our family the most. These people need those with whom they share a history, all that past and all those relationships, even if so much of that history, including their home, has been ripped from them.

Building family relationships is one of the most important things about being human. The refugee scheme and the asylum system are all about being human and standing up for humanity against the worst of inhumanity—against the barbarism, persecution, war and conflict that can cause so much chaos in families’ lives. In the end, that is all that this Bill is about.

The current system is not working well enough to keep families of refugees together when they face the most difficult times of all. This Bill is about the Eritrean mother who has come here through a proper, managed, legal resettlement scheme, but who cannot bring her teenage son here because he is over 18. Even though she has been through terrible persecution along the way, she cannot be reunited with him. This Bill is about the family from Syria who cannot bring their 18-year-old daughter here from Lebanon because she is over 18.

The Government and other Conservative Members have set out a series of things in response. I want to address their points, because this should be a cross-party issue. So many of the refugee discussions that we have had in the past—on the Dubs amendment or even going back to the Kindertransport—have been cross-party debates, and they should and could be again.

The Government’s response has been partly to talk about all the good work that they rightly do to help families and refugees in the region. The Government do do excellent work, and I pay tribute to them, as have other Members. We all want that work to continue. We also know that this is not an either/or situation. We would not expect families to continue to be split up or to suffer simply because a lot of other families in the region are being helped. There is no reason not to help these families as well.

Next, the Government say that there is discretion within the existing system, and that there are other ways of doing this. The hon. Member for Colchester referred to the Mandate scheme and others. However, the problem is that they do not work well enough. In too many cases, the entry officers use their discretion to simply say no. Nobody has the resources to overturn that because there is no legal aid in England to be able to deal with some of those cases, and it is too hard and too difficult. The discretionary system is not working at the moment. The independent chief inspector of borders and immigration has said that there are serious problems with the way that it works.