The refuge of family – how the UK government can help refugee children

Date: 2nd October 2017
Category: Right to life, survival and development, Family reunification, Refugee , migrant and asylum-seeking children

"The refuge of family" provides an in-depth look at how the UK can make a vital contribution to children's safety in the context of the global refugee crisis by making it easier for them to reach family in the UK via official routes.

Unicef UK has found that every thirty minutes a child fleeing danger is exploited by criminal gangs on their way to Europe. In a new paper, Unicef UK also exposes a flaw in the UK's refugee family reunion rules which, until fixed, will force children to make dangerous journeys to reach the safety of loved ones, falling into the arms of smugglers and traffickers, facing exploitation and abuse along the way.

As the UK exits the European Union even the restricted Dublin III process is likely to close, as recognised by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis MP this month. This leaves limited time for the Home Secretary to decide on whether to amend the UK's own rules before the situation becomes far more challenging for vulnerable children. Unicef UK is calling on the government to ensure its refugee family reunion rules are fit for purpose before Brexit, providing safe and legal routes for children in desperate need of safety.

Lily Caprani, Deputy Executive Director at Unicef UK, said:

"We have seen what the UK's leadership and compassion can do for the world's most vulnerable children. Last year 700 unaccompanied children used the Dublin process to be reunited with family in the UK - the majority of whom joined close family but not parents. It is this route and lifeline that refugee children could lose in the face of Brexit, unless the government acts now. Not doing so will let the traffickers and smugglers win. This simple change to our rules does not need protracted negotiation with the European Union. Doing it could give children their childhoods back."

Right now, the UK's refugee family reunion law is keeping families apart. The current system does not recognise uncles, aunts, grandparents or even adult siblings as family, meaning children fleeing war, violence and persecution can apply from where they are living to join only their parents. As a result, children with no parents able to care for them in the UK, must face danger and even death trying to reach Europe where, under EU law, they can apply to join close family members. The new research by Unicef UK catalogues case studies of the impact of this on children fleeing danger and calls for an urgent solution.