The UK government is “deliberately and destructively” preventing child refugees from being with their families, instead leaving them in the care of local authorities.
The UK has the third highest number of unaccompanied child asylum seekers in Europe, with 3,060 claiming asylum here in 2018. That year, 1,072 were recognised as refugees with a further 73 granted humanitarian protection.
While adults who are granted refugee status in the UK have the right to bring their children here, it does not work the other way round – child refugees are not allowed to bring parents or siblings to the UK after the government has given them refugee status. The UK is the only EU country not to permit this form of family reunion.
The Home Office said it has no plans to change the rules and that allowing child refugees to bring close family members to the UK would create “perverse incentives” encouraging children to embark on dangerous journeys.
But the Without My Family report from Amnesty International UK, the Refugee Council and Save the Children found that children are unaware of family reunion policies in different European countries and flee their countries simply because they are seeking safety.
The report highlights the consistent criticism the government’s policy has been subject to, from senior judges to specialist committees of parliamentarians and the Committee on the Rights of the Child. In 2018, MPs from across the political spectrum voted with an overwhelming majority to change these rules but they remain in place.
Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty International UK, said: “The UK government is deliberately and destructively preventing child refugees from being reunited with their families. A simple policy change would transform the lives of these children and help ensure they grow up safe and secure with the people they most need and love.”
Daniela Reale of Save the Children UK said: “There is clear evidence that keeping children separated from their families causes long-lasting psychological, health, social and developmental damage for children of any age.”
Maurice Wren, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “The UK’s rules on refugee family reunion are a flagrant breach of the government’s legal obligations to act at all times in the best interests of the child. For many separated children, being reunited with family members is indisputably in their best interests, yet in the UK we choose to keep them apart for the inhumane reason that this might deter others from seeking safety and protection.”