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MPs Just Backed a Bill to Allow Child Refugees to Unite with Family in the UK

A bill that would allow refugee children to reunite with close relatives in the UK is one step closer to becoming law, after it was backed by cross-party members of parliament in the House of Commons. 

Over 120 MPs from Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Green, and DUP, along with Conservative former ministers Bob Neill and Anna Soubry, gave the refugee family reunion bill their support at its second reading on Friday. 

Take action: Refugee? Migrant? Human Being. Show Your Support for All People — No Matter Where They Were Born

Scottish National Party MP Angus MacNeil’s private member’s bill seeks to do three things, according to Amnesty International — which is one of several charities supporting it, along with the British Red Cross, the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR, Oxfam, the Refugee Council, Help Refugees, and the Student Action for Refugees network.

The bill aims to: 

  • Expand the criteria of who qualifies as a family member for the purposes of refugee family reunion. 
  • Give unaccompanied refugee children in the UK the right to sponsor their family members to join them under the refugee family reunion rules
  • Reintroduce legal aid for refugee family reunion cases. 

“Everybody forgets what and who a refugee is,” said Soubry during the reading. “This is somebody who is fleeing a place they love — their home.”

“They do not want to leave it, but circumstances that we cannot even begin to imagine, mean they literally grasp the first things that come to hand and flee their home looking for a place of refuge,” she said.

Read more: Powerful Photos of Families Welcoming Refugees Into Their Homes

Currently, the only family members explicitly allowed to join adult refugees in the UK are their spouse or partner, and their dependent children under the age of 18, according to the charity Help Refugees. 

Unaccompanied children who are granted refugee status in the UK at the moment have no right to reunite with their closest family members. In the whole of Europe, only the UK and Denmark currently deny this right. 

According to Help Refugees, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has urged the UK to “review its asylum policy in order to facilitate family reunion for unaccompanied and separated refugee children.” 

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Caroline Nokes, the immigration minister, said the government is, however, likely to block the bill at the next stage, the committee stage, 

In an article written for the Times, Nokes said the government is concerned that the legislation would mean higher numbers of people would try to make the dangerous crossing to the UK. 

“Those who — with all good intention — try to promote and encourage alternative pathways to the UK could be putting the people they are trying to help in danger,” Nokes wrote.

Read more: UK Pledges to Step Up Efforts to Rehome Child Refugees Stuck in Calais

She added that the new legislation would apply to family members “regardless of whether they need protection, are living in conflict zones, or had even formed a family unit before they left.” 

Nokes further said the government spent £1.1 billion on resettlement between 2015 and 2020, and had set up routes within immigration regulation to bring refugees to the UK. 

During Friday’s reading, MacNeil said the change would help between 800 and 1,000 people a year. 

“It’s clear that this issue isn’t about party politics, it’s about doing the right thing and it was pretty obvious to all of us that families belong together and that children belong with their parents," said MacNeil. 

Read more: Ai Weiwei's Larger-Than-Life Sculpture Makes a Bold Statement About the Refugee Crisis

The bill had its first reading on July 19 2017. It will now go to the committee stage in the House of Commons, although the date hasn’t yet been announced.

Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals, a number of which address issues relating to the refugee crisis — including goal No.16 on conflict, peace, justice, and inclusive institutions. You can join us by taking action on this issue here