accessibility & help

Applying for family reunion legal cuts human cost

Meet Ritah. She fled from Uganda a few years ago, in fear for her life. The UK has granted her asylum. She is finally safe. So why is she still frightened?

The right to see their families

Refugees have a legal right, under UK and international law, to bring their families over to the UK to join them. To see her family again, all Ritah needs to do is fill in a form.

Sounds simple? Unfortunately, that form is so long and complicated that even a native English speaker struggles to fill it out correctly. After suffering significant psychological trauma, Ritah is anxious about completing it and making a mistake. Any queries over it would take months to appeal. Meanwhile, her same-sex partner is still in Uganda, in hiding, and facing persecution.

Ritah says: “When you are in the system, you know that mistakes put you back to the start, so you're scared… [There] is so much pressure, especially if the person is in danger.”

Before April 2013, refugees could receive legal aid to fill out this form. Now they must face the challenge alone. Most refugees try to raise money for expert help, under difficult circumstances and with little social support. Some resort to dangerous or risky methods to get hold of the money, such as high-interest loans. They take their chances, and risk being exploited. 

Call for action

We want to see improvements to the laws around this issue. A recent report by The Low Commission describes how cuts to advice and legal support have affected many people, and vulnerable groups in particular. It goes on to set some clear recommendations for the UK government.

The British Red Cross was one of hundreds of organisations and individuals that gave advice to this report. We focused on the barriers that prevent family reunion.

Moving on with their lives

We believe that we can help separated families by simplifying the family reunion form. We would also like the UK government to bring back funding for the most complex cases. We want more people – like Ritah – to get the right information and advice so they can reunite with their loved ones as quickly as possible.

A reunited family helps everyone: refugee families that stay together are more likely to contribute to their new country and move on with their lives. This is all that people like Moumen – a Syrian national, trying to bring over his wife and five children – want:

Moumen says: “I want to thank the UK government for granting me leave to remain, but there is no meaning if I can’t have my family here… My kids cry when I call them, they don’t understand why they can’t be with me – and they want to see me.”

Refugee family reunion

For our detailed proposals on how to improve the system to support refugees, read our report, The Complexity of Family Reunion.

All names have been changed to protect identities.

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