Refugee family reunion

Improving family reunion in the UK

man and child holding hands in silhouette looking at sunset

What’s wrong? 

Refugee family reunion should be a vital, safe and legal way for refugee families to renunite after they have been torn apart by war and persecution. It has the potential to prevent dangerous journeys across oceans and continents to Europe and the UK. 

There are simple changes to the way people have to apply to be reunited that would make sure it is a safe way for families to be together again.

British Red Cross research (PDF) has found that, for too many families, the process is far from safe. We spoke to 100 families about their experiences, who told us that applying for a family reunion visa often required dangerous journeys.

This is because people need to get to the nearest application centre, which is often hundreds of miles away. Some of the families we spoke to faced journeys of several months, crossing conflict zones and relying on various ways of travelling.

And even then, they weren’t guaranteed that their application would be successful.

Our new report The Long Road to Reunion (PDF) shows how straightforward changes can reduce the dangerous journeys families have to make and let them rebuild their lives together again in safety.

Key findings 

  • 49% of families faced significant barriers and protection concerns due to the current procedural requirements.
  • Around 90% of all families granted a visa in the past 10 years have been adult women (33%) and children (58%).
  • Almost 60% of families reported as being displaced before and/or during the application process.
  • Associated costs, danger and distance of travel to the visa application centre were the main challenges faced by families. 
  • The level of difficulty faced was impacted by personal and environmental factors such as gender, age, displacement and legal status of the family, finances, stability of the country and the nature of the border crossing.
  • 44% of families had to cross at least one border. Of those, over 60% were families travelling with children.
  • 17% resorted to using smugglers to cross borders. 

Who’s affected?

Last year, we helped to reunite more than 1,000 families though providing legal support, travel assistance once a visa has been granted and integration support.

What needs to change?

Since 2016 the Home Office have been making changes to improve the family reunion process, but research shows that changes have been slow and more needs to be done. Please see our research reports below.

The government needs to make refugee family reunion a process that is accessible, safe and considers the vulnerabilities and protection needs faced by these families. 

We will be working with the government to make this happen and continue to help families reunite. 

Our calls to decision makers

  • Reduce the number of journeys a family must take to one, and only after a positive decision on their case has been made. 
  • To be flexible on how and when a family submits their biometric information if they cannot reach a visa application centre safely.
  • To allow families to take a tuberculosis test on arrival rather than in advance, which requires an additional journey.
  • For the visa application centres to be flexible on their strict ID requirements that result in families being denied entry.

Support our calls

England - contact Jon Featonby:

Scotland - contact Kenneth Watt:

Wales - contact Georgia Marks:

Northern Ireland - contact Stephen Browne: