accessibility & help

Most Brits think their child could not face life alone aged 18 – the age refugee children are barred from reuniting with their family in the UK

24 August 2016

Ibrahim is reunited with his wife and three children at Manchester airport

Just 11 per cent of British adults believe their child would be ready to face life alone at 18 – the age at which children of refugees become ineligible to join parents living in the UK – according to a poll carried out by the British Red Cross.

Under UK and international law, refugees who have been granted asylum in Britain have the right to bring close family members to join them in safety. However, this currently only applies to spouses and children under 18, often leaving other family members in camps and war zones overseas, or forced to take dangerous journeys to reunite with their family.

Ahead of two major international summits on refugees taking place in September, the charity’s #TornApart campaign is calling for the UK government to widen its family reunion rules to include young people aged 18-25 who lived with their parents when they were forced to flee their country.

The poll. which asked the UK public to imagine what choices they would make if caught up in the refugee crisis, also found that more than 90 percent said family would be what they would miss most if they had to flee disaster or conflict themselves. This was followed by their friends (82 percent) and their partner (59 percent).

Mike Adamson, Chief Executive of the British Red Cross said: 

“This poll shows that being with family is one of the most basic instincts we have. Faced with the prospect of leaving home, above all, this is what British people would want. This is no different for refugee families who have fled conflict or persecution. 

“Despite this, our asylum rules are tearing families apart, at a time when being together as a family is what matters to them the most. Any parent will tell you that the love and concern you have for your child does not lessen as they get older, and that you don’t stop being a parent to your child when they turn 18. 

“As world leaders meet to discuss how the biggest refugee crisis of our time, we hope the UK government will consider making this small change to our asylum rules and provide a safe, legal route for more families to build a new life together.”

Being able to be with family members would be the most important factor in deciding which country to travel to, ahead of choosing a destination where English is spoken, or where they could continue working or studying.

Australia, Canada and the US were the countries respondents were most likely to flee to, followed by New Zealand and Ireland. 

The poll also shows that 83 percent believe the UK’s refugee and asylum seeker population is higher than it actually is, with only 17 percent aware that the correct answer is less than one percent.

The British Red Cross #TornApart campaign is urging the public to ask their MP to help reunite refugee families at



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Notes to editors

  • Statistics have been taken from a poll of 2,000 nationally representative UK adults, carried out by Opinium for the British Red Cross 
  • Both UK legislation and international definitions consider young people to be up to the age of 24-25, for example with former looked after children in the Children Act 1989 and the Children and Young Persons Act 2008. The UN also defines ‘youth’ as 15 to 24 year olds.
  • The British Red Cross is the largest provider of support to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. Refugee family reunion has been a key activity of the British Red Cross since 1992. So far in 2016 the British Red Cross has reunited more than 1,000 family members through its travel assistance programme.
  • The British Red Cross helps people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. We are part of a global voluntary network, responding to conflicts, natural disasters and individual emergencies. We enable vulnerable people in the UK and abroad to prepare for and withstand emergencies in their own communities. And when the crisis is over, we help them to recover and move on with their lives.