Refugee family reunion

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 5th March 2019.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 4:00 pm, 5th March 2019

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

New clause 51 relates to refugee family reunions. Again, I have encountered a problem with the scope of the Bill, as my new clause would extend the scope of refugee family reunion rules to EEA and Swiss nationals. That would obviously be a fairly rare occurrence; nevertheless, I think some of these amendments and new clauses would establish a principle. As I said to the Immigration Minister not long ago, if it gives rise to inequalities and problems, the answer is for the Government to equalise the situation by raising the standards in relation to non-EEA nationals who are also refugees.

Due to the restrictive rules about who is eligible, many people are not allowed to reunite under family reunion rules. Currently, the UK immigration rules state that

“adult refugees in the UK can be joined via family reunion by their spouse/partner and their dependent children who are under the age of 18.”

Those restrictions mean, for example, that parents are not automatically able to bring their children who have turned 18 to the UK, even if the child is still dependent on them and has not yet married or formed their own family. While the family reunion guidance allows some cases outside the rules to be granted in exceptional circumstances, in reality that rarely happens.

Furthermore, unlike adult refugees, children who are in the UK alone and have refugee status have no right to be reunited with even their closest family members. Again, in this regard the UK is an outlier. These are children who have often endured hardship and trauma and have been recognised by the Government as having the right to stay in the UK. They now find themselves alone in an unfamiliar country and having to navigate the immigration system themselves.

The Government argue that granting refugee children the right to sponsor family members to come to the UK would be a pull factor and incentivise or force more children to make dangerous journeys to the UK. However, there is no evidence to support that claim, and in every other EU member state refugee children can sponsor close relatives to join them.

In the 12 months before September 2018, for instance, 811 separated children were granted asylum in the UK, more than a quarter of whom had fled Eritrea. These children have been recognised by the Government as being in need of international protection, where it is not safe for them to be returned to their home country. Where possible, and where it is in their best interest, children should be able to be with their parents. Granting separated children family reunion rights would allow that to happen. That, in short, is what the new clause seeks to put us on the road to achieving.

The other point I want to make is that Parliament of course debated all this and heard all the Government’s arguments during the Second Reading debate on the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend Angus Brendan MacNeil. Considerable effort was made to ensure that sufficient Members would be present at a Friday sitting to debate that private Member’s Bill. There was a vote and there was overwhelming support for its Second Reading. There is growing frustration about the delay in bringing forward the money resolution to enable that Bill to go to the next stage—Committee. I would therefore like the Minister to explain what is happening and when we will see the Bill get to Committee, because we are running out of time and it would be outrageous if all that good work was stymied by Government use of procedures.