Unifying refugee families could have a positive effect on Croydon

By - Friday 16th March, 2018

As the home of the Visa and Immigration Service, Croydon supports many unaccompanied refugee children

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Croydon attracts many refugees who have fled from zones of conflict, persecution and poverty to seek asylum in the UK. This is because it is the home of the national Visa and Immigration Service, where they claims are processed. However, the UK is one of the only two European countries (the other is Denmark) that denies children granted asylum the right to apply for family to join them. As a a result, significant number of unaccompanied young people and children continue to require support. According to campaigners, widening the refugee family reunion criteria could have positive effects on integration.

Campaigners are therefore calling on the UK government to allow children who have been granted refugee status to apply for family members to join them. They are also calling for an expansion of who qualifies as family, so that young people who have turned 18 and elderly parents can live in safety with their families in the UK, and the reintroduction of legal aid so refugees have the support they need to navigate the complicated legal process of being reunited with their families. At present only adult refugees living in the UK can apply for their family members to join them, and this only applies to spouses and children under 18 years old.

Amnesty‘s director of campaigns stated in in 2017 that it is a “travesty that vulnerable children who have come to this country, fleeing conflict and persecution, are not entitled for their family members to join them”. She added: “any of them are already deeply traumatised and this cruel policy only exacerbates their suffering. We want to send a strong message to the UK government to change the rules to allow them to be reunited with their loved ones”.

Restrictions on family reunification compound the problems refugees face

A joint report produced by the Refugee Council and Oxfam is one of the first to look at the effects of family reunification restrictions on refugees’ ability to successfully integrate into UK society. Their studies found that a majority of the families interviewed were unable to focus on activities essential to integration, because they were preoccupied with worries about family members. In 18 out of the 44 cases, at least one family member had suffered from symptoms associated with anxiety and many individuals had gone to extreme lengths to be reunited with family, in some cases to the extent of being pushed in to poverty or resorting to smugglers or other irregular means.

The report argues that “…for most of us, family gives us the necessary resilience and support to succeed in life.. Refugees often find themselves separated from their families by their brutal experience of conflict and persecution, just at a time when they need each other the most… for refugees in the UK, that separation can drag on for years or sometimes indefinitely because of the UK’s restrictive rules on family reunion”.

Hayley Cohen, the case work manager for Young Roots, a charity in Croydon that supports young asylum seekers, echoes some of the arguments made in the report. In an interview with the Guardian she expressed that the government’s position has had a large impact on the children that the organisation has worked with, including a “profound impact” on mental health. She adds that the restrictions on family reunification are among “the most difficult things that the children face”, compounding the endless barriers of language, culture, accessing appropriate support. The process of seeking refugee status in a new and unfamiliar country is both complex and demanding.

The Shadow Home Secretary is calling for an end to ‘family break-up via the immigration system’

Dianne Abbot, the shadow home secretary, has recently called for a fairer immigration system for families. Her intervention follows Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s recent confirmation that the long-delayed government white paper on post-Brexit immigration has been postponed again and will most likely not appear before the autumn season.

Moving to end “family break-up through the immigration system” through a Labour policy pledge, Abbot expressed a commitment to “allow the carers or parents of admitted children refugees to come here… and to end the practice of deporting children, currently without entitlement to be here, once they turn 18, even when their parents are entitled to be here”.

Abbot says it is “neither fair nor reasonable to break up families” in such a manner. She argues that the immigration is ‘broken’ and lacks humanity, and that it fails to prioritise jobs, growth and prosperity over less significant targets.

However, others have rejected the calls. A Home Office spokesperson for example, has been quoted saying that “allow[ing] children to sponsor family members would create perverse incentives for them to be encouraged, or even forced, to leave their family, risk hazardous journeys and seek to enter the UK illegally in order to sponsor relatives”.

Croydon’s young refugees could be helped by the forthcoming Private Bill on Refugee Family Reunification

Some observers on social media have also added meaningful contributions to the debate arguing that expanding refugee reunion criteria to allow children to sponsor family members is potentially a concrete way that the UK can play its part in offering safetyMore than 3,100 migrants died crossing the Mediterranean in 2017 and eight migrants’ deaths have been reported so far in 2018, with dozens still missing.

On 16th March 2018, Angus MacNeil MP’s Private Bill on Refugee family Reunification will get its second reading in the House of Commons. If successful, this bill will help refugee families be re-united in the UK. Campaigners are urging the public to contact their local MP asking them to attend the debate and vote in support.

Whilst there is no reliable overall source of statistics on where asylum-seekers and refugees live, it is documented that unaccompanied young people mostly present/claim asylum in Croydon, after their initial claims for asylum have been processed at Lunar House. Our borough therefore takes responsibility for a large number of young refugees, and the bill could have a significant impact on their integration of Croydon.

To find out more information, search #StandAsOne.

Keleisha Robinson

Keleisha Robinson

Keleisha is a recent graduate with a BA degree in Social Policy, who is now working in the charity sector with passion to make a positive difference through her career. In her various advocacy roles she works to inform and inspire others to take action on a number of social and international problems, such as poverty and modern slavery. She has a strengthened belief that social and human rights issues are a global concern that warrant international solutions and interventions. With this sense of global and social citizenship she is keen to learn more, and write, about social policy related issues to inform readers. An energetic character, Keleisha loves to dance and sing anywhere and everywhere whenever she can. She also loves to travel and never shies away from a good debate about political issues with her friends.

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