Refugees (Family Reunion) (No.2) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:53 pm on 16th March 2018.

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Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 12:53 pm, 16th March 2018

I will try to be brief, Mr Deputy Speaker, because the most important thing today is that this Bill proceeds. I pay tribute to Angus Brendan MacNeil, and to all hon. Members who, unusually, are here on a Friday. This is my fourth debate on a Friday in 13 years, because this Bill matters. It is a chance and a test. It is a test of our support for the people who need it most; it is a test of our ability to act with compassion and common sense. It is not a hard test, because this is a modest and tightly defined common sense Bill.

Let us be clear what the changes in the Bill would mean for the refugee children who are already here in the United Kingdom. These are children who have experienced unimaginable things. Nevertheless, I want Members to try to imagine. What horrific set of circumstances might have to happen to a family that would mean that the danger and misery of fleeing across land and sea, as well as the risk of separation, is preferable to staying put? Imagine how you would want your children and your family to be treated at the end of your journey. Imagine that sanctuary, and the kindness that goes with it, and be very clear that that must be the model for how we treat families today.

Separated refugee children in the United Kingdom have already overcome threats and danger in their own communities. They have been split from their families in their rush to find somewhere—anywhere—safe and have then been forced through a terrifying journey by sea and land to Europe, journeys that we know have claimed hundreds of children’s lives. These refugee children are here right now living in our communities alongside us, asking us today to step up and reunite them with their families. The Bill will allow them a future with their families instead of being separated from them. It will mean children growing up with their parents where they should be, at their side, rather than living with the constant worry about the fate of their families, stranded and out of reach. The Bill simply makes that possible.

Let us not lose sight of who these refugee children are. The biggest groups seeking help in the UK last year were from Eritrea and Sudan, two countries torn apart by generations of civil war and violence. In Eritrea, boys can be conscripted into the army from the age of 16, sent off to kill and be killed at the whim of their Government. They are sent away from their families as child conscripts to serve wherever they are posted, cut off from home when they are barely high school age. In Sudan, hundreds of thousands of families are starved of food and basic medical supplies, and are at the mercy of warring factions on all sides. For many parents and their children, this is how ordinary life has been for years. These are children who have started life with the worst possible deal. Let us today give them a better deal.

The Bill will not just assert the rights of children to sponsor their families to join them, which is itself long overdue, it will bring immigration rules into line with real life. The rules need to be as flexible as families themselves. That parents can be reunited with some but not all of their children, and younger siblings can be brought to safety but their older sisters and brothers may be left behind, are shocking anomalies. At the moment, the rules obsess over age. If a child falls the wrong side of their 18th birthday when their parents become refugees, the parents have no right to bring them here. They will be left in danger. Can we agree that common sense and compassion should take the place of pedantry?