A new report by University of Bedfordshire academic, Dr Helen Connolly, for Amnesty International, Refugee Council and Save the Children, shows the damaging impact that the lack of family reunion rights is having on child refugees in the United Kingdom.
Dr Helen Connolly, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University, conducted the report with the 3 leading human and children's rights organisations, which is calling on the new UK Government to engage with the evidence and change refugee family reunion rules which currently block child refugees in the UK from being reunited with their families.
The 38-page report - Without My Family – released on 13 January 2020 by Amnesty International UK, Refugee Council and Save the Children, highlights how the UK Government is preventing child refugees from being with their families, instead leaving them in the care of local authorities.
A petition urging the Home Secretary to change the rules currently has over 40,000 signatures.
Dr Helen Connolly said: “This is an important piece of research in law and policy terms. This was the first piece of research in the UK to focus on this issue, bringing together children’s voices and experiences, professional knowledge and experiences, with legal and statistical evidence.
“The first hand experiences of the children in the report, and the interviews with key professional stakeholders, really bring home the human story of children’s forced migration and their identities as children, songs, brothers, and not just as single refugee children.
“This human story is an important starting point in this policy debate and it has been such a privilege to have been involved in this work.”
The UK government is deliberately and destructively preventing child refugees from being with their families, instead leaving them in the care of local authorities. Read more: https://t.co/hMvT3taYCK— Amnesty UK (@AmnestyUK) January 13, 2020
The report shows that the UK Government’s refugee family reunion rules - which block child refugees in the UK from being reunited with their families - is in breach of international law, causing significant harm and risks to refugee children in this country.
The research involved refugee children and young people in the UK and key professional and policy stakeholders in the UK and Europe. Based on first-hand testimonies from children and young people aged 15-21 (all of whom arrived in the UK whilst under 18), the report details the devastating effects of family separation on children who have sought safety in this country, including constant anxiety, fear for their families’ safety, and in some cases serious mental health consequences.
Social workers and other professionals spoke of their distress at witnessing the children they care for having to cope without family. The report also points to the consistent criticism the government’s policy has been subject to, from senior judges to specialist Committees of parliamentarians and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Current UK law allows adult refugees, rebuilding their lives in the country, to sponsor their immediate family members to join them. However, child refugees are deprived of this right. The UK is one of the only countries in Europe to prevent child refugees from sponsoring their family members to join them.
In 2018, MPs from across the political spectrum voted with an overwhelming majority to change to these harmful rules. Despite this, the Government has continuously delayed and blocked the changes from happening.
Habib*, 17, fled Sudan after being tortured and imprisoned at just 15-years-old. He travelled to Libya, leaving behind his mother and younger siblings. In Libya, he remained unsafe and treated so badly he still spoke of his flashbacks several years later. He finally found safety in the UK but remains separated from his family.
He said: “I haven’t seen my family for nearly three years now. It is a long time and I miss my mum. It is really hard. It is something that you cannot forget about. You can cover it, but you can’t forget… Being without your family, it is like you have a body without a soul.”
*All names changed to protect identities
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