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Government must do more for refugees with family in UK say leading charities

12 July 2016

Mother and child at the Teesside project

UK immigration rules are forcing vulnerable young refugees to make dangerous journeys across Europe to be with their families, others are being left stranded in camps and conflict zones overseas, charities told MPs at a parliamentary briefing today.

With the number of people displaced globally now at the highest level ever recorded, the British Red Cross, Unicef UK, International Rescue Committee, Refugee Action and the Refugee Council say the government must do more to reunite families safely and legally.

People with refugee and humanitarian protection status can apply for their spouses and children under 18 to join them in safety in the UK. However, other family members are not included – leaving many children and young people who have fled conflict or persecution with no legal way to reach their family.

There are three major restrictions to the UK’s current family reunion rules. Firstly, they do not apply to people over 18, meaning that vulnerable young people who depend on their family are stranded overseas. Secondly, the rules fail to recognise that after years of conflict, many orphaned children may have grandparents, aunts and uncles, or adult brothers and sisters in the UK who could care for them. Finally, refugee children who have arrived in the UK by themselves are prevented from bringing any member of their family to join them, including their parents.

By widening the rules, the UK can ensure that children and young people living in conflict regions are reunited with their families safely and legally, rather than having to risk their lives on dangerous journeys through Europe.

Mike Adamson, Chief Executive of the British Red Cross said: “The UK’s restrictive rules around refugee family reunion are leading to young people, including those who have just turned 18, being stranded in some of the most dangerous places in the world to fend for themselves – torn apart from their families at a time when they need each other the most. 

“Refugee families, who have already been through more pain and trauma than most of us can ever imagine, deserve better than this.”

Lily Caprani, Deputy Executive Director at Unicef UK said: “Unaccompanied refugee children still have no choice but to take dangerous journeys alone across Europe because they are not being given a safe and legal way to come to the UK. This is despite many of them having families waiting for them here.

“There will be children who wouldn’t have drowned or suffocated in the backs of lorries if UK immigration rules were fairer and more humane. MPs have today heard some of the harrowing stories of journeys and separation that the Government has the power to prevent.

“The process of family reunion is far too slow and right now there are children stuck in wretched camps from Greece to France. We need immediate action to speed up these procedures and ensure that these children are reunited with their families.”

Refugee Action Chief Executive Stephen Hale said: “By changing the restrictive refugee family reunion rules, the UK Government can provide families separated by conflict with a legal route to safety here in the UK. This will not only save lives, but will allow refugees already living here the chance to successfully rebuild their lives with the much needed support and care of their loved-ones.”

Refugee Council Chief Executive Maurice Wren said: "It seems obvious that the Government should be doing everything in its power to reunite families divided by war, rather than deliberately and permanently separating them. Changing the rules wouldn’t just bring refugee families back together; it could also help save lives."

Sanjayan Srikanthan of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said: ‘Political inaction around family reunion is forcing vulnerable children into unnecessarily dangerous situations in Syria, the Middle East and across Europe, where many children have simply ‘disappeared’ while also keeping families who have been through hell apart. We urge immediate action to reunite refugee children, no matter what their age, with their families in the UK.' 

The British Red Cross, UNICEF, International Rescue Committee, Refugee Action and the Refugee Council will brief MPs on refugee family reunion in Parliament at 10.00am, Tuesday July 12th 2016


Notes to editors

  • The British Red Cross campaign Torn Apart ( is calling for the UK government to widen family reunion rules to include children over the age of 18 who were living with their parents at the time they were forced to leave their home country
  • Unicef UK is calling on the UK Government to take urgent action to reunite refugee children with their families in the UK, by speeding up existing family reunion procedures, sending immigration officials to Europe to process cases swiftly, and widening existing laws to allow children to be reunited with extended family.
  • Refugee Action is calling on the government to change the highly restrictive family reunion rules, to allow refugees to be reunited with their dependent family members. For more information, see



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.