MPs urged to vote to keep refugee families together

Amnesty International action week to rally support for Refugee Family Reunion Bill

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL is calling on supporters to write to MPs as part of a week of action to drum up support for SNP MP Angus MacNeil’s Refugee Family Reunion Bill.

The member’s bill, which MPs will have the chance to vote for on 16 March, would change rules which currently prevent refugee children from bringing their families with them to the UK.

Along with Student Action for Refugees (STAR) and Oxfam, Amnesty International UK is taking action from 16 to 23 February through its ‘Families Together’ campaign to urge MPs to turn up to back the changes.

The campaign has also been endorsed by the UK and Scottish Refugee Councils, the British Red Cross and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“It is disgraceful that children are the only refugees in our system denied the right to sponsor family members to join them." Kate Nevens, Amnesty International

Kate Nevens, Amnesty International’s Scotland programme director, told CommonSpace: “Current UK Government rules mean child refugees who have been forced to leave their homes and endure traumatic journeys continue to experience profound pain and suffering as they are permanently separated from their families.

“These extremely vulnerable children, who may have been separated from their families as they escaped chaotic conflict zones, are denied the basic right to a family life as neither their parents or siblings are ever permitted to join them here.”

These rules, Nevans said, put children’s safety and wellbeing at risk. “It is disgraceful that children are the only refugees in our system denied the right to sponsor family members to join them in the UK,” she said.

She added: “Being reunited with close family members not only ensures the long term welfare and safety of child refugees in the UK, but would greatly improve their chances of recovery.”

The proposed legisltation, put forward by Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil would give refugee children the right to sponsor their parents to come to the UK, broadening the definition of “family members” which currently only includes children under 18 and spouses. It would also reintroduce legal aid for refugee family applications, which was stopped by the UK Government in 2012.

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Speaking to CommonSpace, Scottish Refugee Council chief executive Sabir Zazai said the right to family life was an “essential human right”, but that this wasn’t being met for many refugee families under the existing system.

“The rules around family reunion in the UK are very restrictive. Children do not have the right to bring their parents to the UK under current rules and the process for parents to reunite with children is long and drawn out, often putting lives at risk,” he said.

“When families flee their homes in search of safety it is not always possible to stay together as a family unit and parents, children and siblings often become separated.”

Zazai added: “Leaving loved ones behind in the midst of conflict can cause unbearable anxiety and psychological stress. There are many people among us here in Glasgow who live every day with this kind of worry. Their only hope is that they will one day be reunited in a place of safety with their loved ones.

“The changes proposed in this bill would make a huge difference to the lives of the people we work with. It is a hopeful and constructive bill that any MP who believes in the right to family life should vote for.”

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In order to rally the support of MPs from all political parties, the Families Together campaign has produced a draft letter which constituents can send to their local MP asking them to attend the vote, despite it falling on a Friday which is typically a constituency day.

Lisa Stewart, campaigns and communications manager at Oxfam Scotland, told CommonSpace: "At the moment, many refugees who are given protection in the UK have no hope of bringing their loved ones here to join them due to restrictive rules.

“As a result, people are being left isolated, traumatised and alone in the UK, knowing that the people they love still face untold dangers in other countries. 

"Oxfam is working together with Amnesty, the Refugee Council, British Red Cross and UNHCR to urge all parties to support Angus MacNeil's Refugee Family Reunion Bill.

“We need to seize the chance to change these rules and  help reunite families that have been torn apart, so we're asking people to contact their MP, asking them to turn up and support this crucial bill on 16 March." 

Picture courtesy of Takver 

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