During the pandemic we all experienced – to varying degrees – what everyday life is like without our loved ones by our side.
We’ve had to miss important moments of each other’s lives, like birthdays, graduations, weddings and even funerals. Many of us found consolation in knowing this separation won’t last forever.
But this isn’t the case for many refugee children who haven’t seen their parents in years. Or for many refugee parents, who are waking up every day hoping for a safe reunion with their children.
Parents like Reema.
Reema was separated from some of her children five years ago. She fled the war and persecution in her home town in northern Syria with her family and arrived in Turkey looking for safety.
One year later, Reema was resettled as a refugee in the UK with her husband Maree – but without all of her children. She was assured by those handling her case that the rest of her children – including one with a chronic illness – would follow her to live in the UK.
Today, she is still waiting and hoping to be reunited with her children and for her family to be together after a long and painful separation. No explanation has been given to Reema and her family. They are left wondering why they’re forced to live apart, asking themselves, ‘what did we do wrong?’
“What can I say, [it’s] endless frustration, my children are far away from me and in desperate need for my help and support. But I can’t offer them any help! My dream is for my family to live safely and peacefully. No one threatening them. I want my children to be by my side! They deprived me [of] my children. I speak to them each morning and every evening for the past 5 years. I visited them in Turkey once, I was so ill so I thought I must say goodbye to them before I die,” she said.
Help Reema and many refugee families find peace and safety together.
We joined forces with many passionate UK stars to call on the prime minister to end the painful separation of refugee families. Take action with us now 👉🏽https://t.co/qz7S6bk8Aq #FamiliesTogether #VoicesNetworkUK #RefugeesWelcome pic.twitter.com/dmsug0aLbH
— Oxfam GB Campaigns (@oxfamcampaigns) September 28, 2020
Strict family reunion laws mean that families separated after fleeing war, conflict or persecution are unable to join their closest relatives safely in the UK.
These laws keep parents and their children separated with no promise of being together again. These laws force some refugees to go to desperate and dangerous lengths to be reunited again. This summer, we witnessed the harrowing images of people crossing the channel in dinghies.
The men, women and children risking their lives in the hope of finding a safe and welcoming place deserve our compassion and support – rather than the hostile response of some sections of the media. The Government should be providing safe and legal routes for people, including making family reunion rules fairer.
Dear Prime Minister @10DowningStreet , many vulnerable refugee children will not be able to live in peace and safety until they are reunited with their families, we are asking you to make this happen #FamiliesTogether #VoicesNetworkUK #RefugeesWelcome 👉🏾 https://t.co/UrBWickTGo pic.twitter.com/TdfkcvskIN
— Oxfam GB Campaigns (@oxfamcampaigns) September 29, 2020
Oxfam is part of the Families Together coalition, and we are campaigning alongside over 50 organisations, including Amnesty International, British Red Cross, Refugee Council, Voices Network and Asylum Welcome to call for meaningful changes to UK family reunion laws. These changes will guarantee a fairer and safer processes and policies that allow families to put an end to indefinite separation and to finally be together and enjoy safety and peace.
Here are three things you might not know about family reunion laws in the UK…
1. Refugee children who are in the UK alone have no right to be reunited with their even closest family members
Fewer than 2,000 asylum applications were made by vulnerable children without their family in the last 12 months. More than half of them were refused asylum.
A recent report by Amnesty, Refugee Council and Save the Children Without My Family, revealed the emotional and mental distress faced by refugee children in the UK who are here without their parents.
Join us in calling on the Prime minister to change the rules so refugee children can find safety and peace with their family by their side.
2. Refugee Parents in the UK can only be joined by their children who are under 18 – even if their children are sick or have disabilities
This seems to send a message to parents – refugees or not – that once their children pass a certain age, they stop being their children – and worrying about their safety is no longer valid. our Safe but not Settled report shows that refugee parents who have fled war find it even harder to deal with their trauma without their children. It’s much harder to work through trauma when you have to keep worrying about your children’s safety.
Join us calling for the expansion of UK government’s definition as to who qualifies for family reunion.
3. Legal aid is not available for family reunion applications in England and Wales
Unlike in Scotland and Northern Ireland, Refugees in England and Wales can’t access any legal aid. This means no support with filling in and submitting an application to reunite with their children. Even if the current laws allow them to apply.
This leaves parents abandoned and facing a complex and financially draining immigration system on their own while their children are left to an uncertain fate. Abandoned and desperate, some parents resort to extreme lengths to bring their children to safety.
Support parents safely reunite with their children.
What we have achieved together so far and where are we now…
Earlier today we handed in our 75K strong #FamiliesTogether petition to @patel4witham. A huge thank you to everyone who signed, shared, watched and helped get the word out there that children need their parents. We couldn’t of done it without you🌈💙👶 pic.twitter.com/6gV3031WIR
— Amnesty UK (@AmnestyUK) February 5, 2020
In February 2020, we, along with the other members of the coalition, handed in our petition to the Home Secretary signed by over 75,000 people across the UK.
Together we mobilised MPs and pushed them to raise this issue in parliament. To call for changing the damaging rules that prevent child refugees from being reunited with their loved ones.
Right now, we’re increasing the momentum and joining forces with over 60 UK celebrities. We’re calling on the Prime Minister to do what’s right and put an end to the suffering of separated refugee families.
We need your support now more than ever to let those in decision making positions know that we #StandAsOne for refugee families.
What are we asking the Prime Minister to do
The Families Together coalition brings together more than 50 organisations including Amnesty International UK, British Red Cross, Refugee Council, Unicef UK and UNHCR to call for:
1. Child refugees in the UK to have the right to sponsor their close family so they can rebuild their lives together and help them integrate into their new community.
2. The definition of who qualifies as family to be expanded so that young people who have turned 18 and elderly parents can live in safety with their families in the UK.
3. The reintroduction of legal aid so refugees who have lost everything have the support they need to afford and navigate the complicated process of being reunited with their families.
Data used for the ‘Did you know’ graphic in this post based on UNHCR data and Refugee Action. Refugee Action state: according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), by the end of 2018 there were 126,720 refugees, 45,244 pending asylum cases and 125 stateless persons in the UK.
That’s around one quarter of a percent (0.26%) of the UK’s total population.