8 July 2015
A lack of legal support is keeping refugees from their families – and it’s leaving people stranded in dangerous conditions.
Under UK law, refugees have the right to bring over close family members, such as a partner or children, to join them in safety.
However, drastic cuts to legal aid in 2012 mean that families now go through the application process alone, without any professional support.
The government has described family reunion as ‘straightforward’ – but our new report demonstrates that this is just not the case.
Left in limbo
The report, Not so straightforward, highlights that families come up against a range of complex situations when applying for family reunion.
Two-thirds of families in the report needed some translation help, just to understand the complicated application form.
Three-quarters were missing an essential document – such as a marriage certificate or wedding photo – to prove their relationship with a family member overseas.
Alex Fraser, head of refugee support at the British Red Cross, does not think this is surprising.
“For many families, getting hold of these documents is impossible. They may have to flee in the middle of the night, or their home could have been destroyed; while some are from countries that don’t produce these documents in the first place.”
He added: “Filling out a form sounds simple enough – but the safety and wellbeing of families is at stake. They are being left in limbo, in situations of great danger, thousands of miles away from one another.”
Lives in danger
Worryingly, over half of family members in the report were also living in risky situations, while they waited to come to the UK.
This included children living without a permanent carer, raising concerns for their social, economic and physical security.
The report also shows that getting hold of evidence is putting people – mostly women and children – in danger.
To submit essential documents, families are required to travel to their nearest British embassy. For some, this means journeys across areas of violence and armed conflict.
Reunite loved ones
Many families can only get around these obstacles with the support of a qualified legal advisor.
Since legal aid was withdrawn, refugees are being forced to turn to charities like the Red Cross for advice. Some even take out high-risk loans to hire a solicitor.
We are now calling on the government for public funds for those who need vital legal help, so they can reunite with loved ones.
Commenting on our recommendations, Alex Fraser said: “We’re concerned that there may be hundreds of refugees whose applications are turned down, all because they don’t have access to the right support.
“Meanwhile, their loved ones abroad are left living in war zones, refugee camps or other highly dangerous circumstances. If we are to uphold our commitment to protecting refugees and their families, applying for family reunion must be made simpler and safer.”