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Refugee family reunion in Scotland

The reunion of mother and daughter

When refugee families reunite, there is immense joy and relief – but it’s not the end of the story.

We believe that families belong together. Forced separation can have devastating consequences for people already in a traumatic situation.

That’s why the British Red Cross helps reunite families separated by conflict and disaster.

This legal process is called ‘family reunion’. In the UK last year, we helped bring together 250 families, forced to live apart.

But many go on to experience challenges and need extra help and support.

Avoiding crisis point

For many refugees, family reunion is another crisis point – when refugees are at a higher risk of destitution, homelessness or severe overcrowding at home.

These risks place extra strain on families at a critical time, as they attempt to build a home together after what may be years of separation and disrupted family life.

Some of these risks and testing moments are explored in our photo exhibition, Starting Again – A new life in Scotland.

But these situations and outcomes are preventable.

By making some changes, we can improve the experience of family reunion and help refugees integrate into Scotland’s communities.

  • Avoid destitution and homelessness with better planning for people arriving. Policy and planning across departments, such as health, education and housing, should reflect the needs of refugee families.
  • Help families integrate and get to know their new communities. Refugees need to understand their rights, entitlements and responsibilities. They also need advocacy support to access complex services such as housing, benefits systems and schools.
  • Give young people opportunities, as soon as possible, to go to language classes, gain education and develop friendships. Many young refugees arrive in Scotland at a critical stage, as they move into adulthood. We should respond to the best interests of each individual young person, in line with the practice framework outlined by the Scottish government’s Getting it Right for Every Child.
  • Improve family reunion – a safe route that avoids people taking long and desperate journeys. The world is seeing the highest numbers of refugees since records began. Family reunion should be an important part of the UK’s response to the unfolding refugee crisis. It reunites families torn apart by war and persecution, and helps them avoid smugglers and dangerous journeys into Europe. Revising policies around it, such as extending eligibility, has the potential to save many lives.

Main recommendations

The Scottish government and local authorities in Scotland should: 

  • fully reflect the specific needs of family members in policies and practices, so all relevant departments plan for people arriving through family reunion
  • allow local authorities to issue a grant to people when they arrive, if they need financial assistance while waiting for mainstream benefits.

The UK government should:

  • expand the criteria for family reunion to include parents, grandparents and other family members at risk
  • simplify the family reunion process to minimise the length, stress and impact of separation on families
  • make sure new arrivals understand their rights, responsibilities and entitlements, and get appropriate benefits in the shortest possible timeframe.

We call on everyone to:

  • work with communities to help and give information to new arrivals, so people improve their understanding of life in Scotland, join in with community activities and form support networks
  • encourage communities and businesses to support and promote the positive contributions and experiences of working with refugee families.

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