12 November 2020

British Red Cross report finds the process that allows refugees to join their family in the UK is putting people in danger

In a report published today, the British Red Cross finds the system that gives refugees who are granted asylum in the UK the right to safely bring their family to join them is actually putting people in danger. 

Once someone has been granted refugee status in the UK, they can apply for their close family members to join them so they can rebuild their lives together in safety. Family reunion is a vital way to bring families separated by war and violence back together again. But British Red Cross’ latest report shows that there are many risks people have to take during the Refugee Family Reunion application process.

In some cases, children and adults are forced to navigate war zones, flee sexual violence, hide for fear of imprisonment or abuse, and are even forced to pay smugglers, just to reach the place where their paperwork can be processed, by officials acting for the Home Office.  

After speaking to 100 families, the charity estimated 49 per cent of them found the process exposed them to these enormous risks, just to provide documents and personal information like fingerprints.  

In its report ‘The Long Road to Reunion: making refugee family reunion safer’, British Red Cross makes a series of simple recommendations to the Home Office to make this route safer. 

These recommendations include only asking people to travel to visa application centres to provide information and collect their decision after the Home Office have made a positive decision from supporting paperwork submitted online, and ensuring visa application centres are properly equipped to process applications so people don’t have to return multiple times. 

One family, husband Tarek and wife Layla, told the British Red Cross of the absolute fear they had as Layla had to cross a country border occupied by militants to reach the Visa Application Centre she needed to attend as part of the application process as there was no centre in the country she lived. 

Tarek, now a refugee in the UK, who knew very well the dangers of this journey, told us of the moment when he heard from his wife, after hours of no contact as she crossed the closed border in the hands of a smuggler, “I felt so relieved. It was so difficult and dangerous for my wife, because there was always the question it could be a yes or a no. There was a possibility that she could be kidnapped. I see there are a lot of cases or situations like this.” 

Layla couldn’t risk returning home whilst waiting for the outcome of her application and stayed with family who lived in a nearby province. Even after being closer to the Visa Application Centre and able to start the family reunion process Layla faced more hurdles as she needed permission to travel from the local authorities. It took a further nine months for their application to be processed and approved, with many visits to the Visa Application Centre before they were finally reunited in the UK. It was three years in total since they had held each other.  

The report comes at a time when there is intense scrutiny on how people are able to reach protection in the UK, to rebuild their lives in safety. The Home Secretary recently outlined the urgent need for compassionate asylum reform, including the need for more safe routes to be introduced. British Red Cross agree. But the charity’s research shows that the existing “safe” and legal route of refugee family reunion has many barriers that are actually putting people at risk. 

Jon Featonby, Refugee and Asylum Policy Manager at British Red Cross, said, “Refugee family reunion is currently one of the only safe and legal ways for families separated by war, persecution and violence to be reunited with their loved ones. Yet, as our report shows, too many families face incredible risks and difficulties to make this happen. 

“We welcome the Home Secretary’s recent proposal for more safe and legal routes. But we must also address how the existing routes need to be made safer. We urge the Home Office to action the recommendations in our report, so people don’t have to make dangerous journeys to escape the same horrors their family fled, and to be able to hug them again.” 

ENDS

Notes to editor:

British Red Cross is the largest provider of refugee services in the UK. For 150 years, the British Red Cross has helped 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 recover and move on with their lives. redcross.org.uk 

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