Family reunion bill offers hope to separated families in Plymouth

This week, MPs in Plymouth will have the opportunity to vote in favour of vital changes needed to allow more refugee families, torn apart by war and persecution, to be reunited in safety in the UK.

As it stands the eligibility criteria for refugee family reunion in the UK is restrictive, leaving families across Devon torn apart. This includes Didier who was forced to flee political persecution in Cameroon, leaving behind his pregnant wife and children.

With support from the Red Cross, Didier has now been reunited with his family, but the process was a long and very difficult:

“I left Cameroon in 2014 and was granted refugee status in March 2016, almost 18 months after leaving my family.

“In the UK, when someone is granted protection as a refugee, they have a legal right to be reunited with their family. But in 2012, legal aid was removed in the UK, meaning that refugees like me no longer have access to free legal support to navigate the complex family reunion process.

“Instead I had to sacrifice everything to fund this myself. I lived on absolute minimum subsistence. I received second hand clothes from charity. I took food handouts to survive. I walked everywhere. For the most part I would have one very simple meal - of just rice and oil - each day. I lost a lot of weight, dropping to just eight and a half stone.

“But living without food was not the hardest thing. The separation from my family was far worse.”

Now, the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill, due to have its second reading on Friday 16th March, could see more families like Didier’s brought back together with their loved ones in Plymouth.

The Bill, sponsored by MP Angus MacNeil, and supported by the British Red Cross as part of the Families Together Coalition, would allow more refugees to be reunited in the UK, meaning that:

·         Children who have arrived in the UK without their families would be allowed for the first time to sponsor their closest relatives to join them
·         Close family members, such as elderly parents and young refugees over the age of 18 would be able to be reunited with their families in the UK.
·         Legal aid would be reintroduced to help refugee families with their family reunion applications.

The British Red Cross is the UK’s largest independent provider of support to refugees and asylum seekers. The charity has been encouraging the government to widen refugee family reunion rules for some time, one of the few safe and legal routes that people fleeing conflict and persecution can at present take to reach the UK.

David Feindouno, service manager for refugee support at the Red Cross said:

“Families belong together, and this is no different for refugees. Refugee families, who have already been through more pain and trauma than most of us can ever imagine, deserve to be able to rebuild their lives in safety together.

“This bill marks an important step towards improving the lives of refugees who have been torn apart from their families. We urge MPs to turn up on the 16th March and vote for the Government to amend the rules that prevent so many families from being together.”

Luke Pollard, MP for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, who is in support of the bill said: “Later this week I’ll be in parliament to support Angus MacNeil MP, whose Private Members Bill could enable more refugees to be reunited in the UK.

“The Bill could provide a safe and legal route to protection that would prevent refugees from taking dangerous journeys in order to reach their family members in the UK.

“This issue isn’t about party politics, it’s about doing the right thing and enabling families to be together when they need each other the most.”