To acquire a family reunion visa to be legally entitled to be reunited with immediate relatives in the UK, family members overseas must access a UK embassy or visa application centre to complete submission of an application and return later to learn the outcome. Children and adults are being forced to navigate war zones, risk sexual violence or imprisonment, and pay people smugglers, the British Red Cross concludes. Instead of the process providing a safe route to reunion it puts too many people in danger.
Naomi Phillips, the director of policy and advocacy at the British Red Cross, said: “Our report shows that in too many cases children and adults are forced to navigate war zones, flee sexual violence, hide for fear of imprisonment or abuse, and are even forced to pay smugglers. This is just to reach the place where their paperwork can be processed by officials acting for the Home Office." She points out “It doesn’t have to be this way. There are some simple changes that could be made to make the family reunion process safer, such as only asking people to travel to where their application is processed after they have had a positive decision, from paperwork submitted online. By actioning these, the Home Office will reduce or stop people having to make multiple, dangerous, journeys."
The charity said the process, involving providing documents and personal information such as fingerprints, exposed them to risks. The researchers found that applicants had to make multiple trips to visa application centres (Vacs) so as to submit photographs, fingerprints and passports, and, if successful, collect the visas. The nearest Vac was often hundreds of miles away, and some countries, such as Syria and Eritrea, had no such centre at all, the report said. Many applicants also had to make an additional journey to a Home Office-approved clinic for tuberculosis screening, which could also require long journeys and border crossings, it added. Applicants making unauthorised border crossings to complete the visa requirements had the highest price to pay financially and in terms of threats to personal safety, the report found.