Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

Citizenship

A ‘No Deal’ Brexit Could Stop Child Refugees Being Reunited With Families in the UK

Why Global Citizens Should Care 
The UN's Global Goals aim to support the world's most vulnerable people in the mission to end extreme poverty. Global Goal 11 calls for the creation of sustainable cities and communities — including for everyone to have adequate, safe housing — and that means ensuring that refugees are protected. However, the prospect of a “No Deal Brexit” has thrown their future into jeopardy. Join our movement by taking action here.

In the next few weeks, we might learn if parliament has successfully prevented the UK leaving the European Union without a deal and whether or not we’ll be facing a general election.

At the moment, however, a “No Deal Brexit” is still a possibility — and according to the leaked government report, Operation Yellowhammer, there’s potential for that to mean food and medicine shortages, job losses, and country-wide disruption.

Now, according to an exclusive report from the Guardian, a No Deal Brexit could also effectively put an end to the UK’s family reunification policy — which works to give child refugees sanctuary in Britain when they already have relatives here. 

It means that refugee children with family already in the UK no longer have the right to join them.

So when the Brexit deadline passes on Oct. 31, if no deal has been reached, the government would reportedly begin to refuse all applications. The Guardian exclusively reported that this could have “fatal” results as stranded migrant children could resort to increasingly dangerous forms of transport in an attempt to reach Britain.

The family reunification policy actually comes from the EU: the “Dublin Agreement” is the regulation that rules refugees must seek refugee status from the country they arrive in — unless they have family somewhere else.

If Britain leaves the EU without a deal, it no longer has to abide by those rules.

Since 2013, 2,450 requests have been submitted to Britain from Greek authorities under the Dublin Agreement — meaning refugees who had arrived in Greece and then highlighted that they already had family in the UK. There have been 700 requests in the first six months of this year alone.

Read More: These Charities Found a Genius Way to Use Festival Leftovers to Help Refugees

"Diversity is Britain's greatest strength," Maddy Allen, a field manager based in northern France for Help Refugees — an organisation that gets humanitarian aid to vulnerable refugees across the world — told Global Citizen. "This country has been shaped by the myriad of people who have built their lives here."

"Unaccompanied children across Europe, who have family in the UK, provide no threat to the UK," Allen added. "If we can't find empathy and compassion for some of the most vulnerable children in today's society, politicians have no right to talk about Britain as a welcoming and generous place. Future generations are in jeopardy and we have a responsibility to protect the well-being and livelihoods of these children. Legal and safe routes of passage must remain in place."

Concerns are now being raised that those children who, under the Dublin agreement, currently would have a right to reside in Britain because of a family connection, could end up facing homelessness, poverty, uncertainty, and exploitation abroad after Brexit.

Some organisations have warned that these children may turn to traffickers in an attempt to find safety — including 64 young people who would be affected by the changes that are reportedly sleeping rough right now in Calais and Dunkirk.

"An end to family reunification under the Dublin Regulation would result in one of the final legal routes of passage that is available to unaccompanied children coming to Britain being halted," Allen told us. "The journeys across Europe will still happen...These children will be forced to make unnecessary and incredibly dangerous crossings, potentially in the hands of smugglers, to reunite with their families."

Indeed, some activists have said the family reunification policy was often the only way charities could persuade young refugees to trust the authorities. 

Read More: Most British People Actually Do Want More Refugee Support, Study Says

The government has reportedly confirmed it would continue to consider cases after the Oct. 31 deadline, if the cases were submitted before the deadline passed. 

“Deal or no deal, cooperation will continue on asylum and returns as it is in the interests of the UK and the EU,” a Home Office spokesperson told the Guardian. “That is why we have taken proactive action to ensure that whatever the circumstances, ‘Dublin’ requests relating to family reunification that have not been resolved on the date we leave will continue to be considered under existing rules.”

"There is no rhyme nor reason why the British government would close this legal route of passage," Allen said, responding to a question on what Britain's intention might be. "The decision would be cruel, inhumane and most importantly, fatal."

"Children will die making the precarious journeys to join their families," she added. "Leaving the EU, and the regulations that bind us together to comply with international human rights standards, sends a clear signal to the world that the hostile environment is here to stay. Further entrenching isolationist policies, the government are cementing the rhetoric that migration is a threat."

There are 25.9 million refugees worldwide, of which 80% live in countries neighbouring their country of origin, according to UNHCR. This is the highest number of refugees since World War II.

Germany welcomed over a million refugees in 2015 and 2016, fueling economic growth as many filled a gap for skilled workers. But David Cameron, the former UK prime minister, promised to take just 20,000 up to 2020. Although it appears the scheme will be expanded by 5,000-6,000 in 2021, activists say there is still far more that Britain, the fifth richest country in the world, could be doing.

Now, it looks like the only legal route remaining for child refugees is the Dubs amendment, named after Lord Alf Dubs, who first came to Britain as a refugee fleeing the Nazi regime under the UK’s Kindertransport scheme.

It’s different to the Dublin Agreement in that it’s a UK law. It allows a “specified number” of child refugees, in addition to those promised by Cameron under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, which after much debate was eventually decided to be 350. 

Only 270 have so far arrived in the UK, according to charity Safe Passage.

Help Refugees have urged people to speak with their MPs and representatives to raise concerns about the ending of family reunification in the event of a no-deal Brexit.