The Government must guarantee that child refugees can still be reunited with their family in the UK after Brexit, Norman Lamb demanded in Parliament today.
Under the EU’s ‘Dublin III Regulation’, child refugees have the right to be reunited with wider family members in Britain – brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles – if they have been orphaned or have no idea where their parents are.
However, there are concerns that unaccompanied children fleeing war and persecution will lose this right after Britain leaves the EU and ‘Dublin III’ ceases to apply, as the UK’s more restrictive immigration rules currently only enable children to be reunited with their parents.
In the House of Commons, Norman pointed out that some of the world’s most vulnerable children would be effectively abandoned if they have lost their parents – stranded overseas and left at risk of trafficking and abuse. He urged the Government to guarantee that child refugees will still have the right to join other family members in the UK, by amending national Immigration Rules if necessary. He said:
“Will the Minister guarantee that unaccompanied children who are orphaned or have no idea where their parents are will still have the right to be reunited with family members—whether they are brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts or grandparents—who are living in the United Kingdom once we have left the European Union? They are, after all, the most vulnerable children: the most vulnerable to traffickers and to others who seek to abuse them.”
However, Brexit Minister Robin Walker failed to provide this guarantee:
“The right hon. Gentleman is right: we should absolutely seek to continue our policy of generosity towards those children and ensure that our family reunion policy remains generous. We have reunited, and continue to reunite, many refugees with their immediate families: we have granted more than 23,000 family reunion visas over the past five years. Obviously, I cannot set out the details of what we will agree with the EU, but we intend to agree on significant co-operation in this space to ensure that we can continue to bring families together.”
Speaking to BuzzFeed News, Norman said this did not go far enough:
“The mood music was encouraging but I’m after a guarantee, I’m not after words that can easily be evaded when the time comes. We need the government to be clear on this.
“The danger is that when we leave the EU, you’ll be just left with the UK’s own immigration rules, and in effect it means that the most vulnerable children – orphans who have lost both parents, or indeed children who have no idea where their parents might be but have a family member in this country – would have no right to be reunited.
“They would effectively be abandoned, and that means children at risk from traffickers and others who seek to abuse them. So I want the government to guarantee that children who are orphans, or who have no idea where their parents are, will still after Brexit have the right to come to this country to join family members.”
Lily Caprani from UNICEF UK said:
“It's critical that Brexit doesn't put at risk the ability of children fleeing war and persecution to reach the safety of their close family in the UK. Now is the time for the UK government to broaden its own rules and ensure the protection of unaccompanied refugee children. This means simply widening the definition of family to allow children to be reunited with siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, as well as their parents. This will not take complex negotiations with the EU, it's simply a matter of the Home Office changing its own rules.”