Lords defy Government on Immigration bill

The House of Lords has voted in support of an amendment to its flagship immigration bill which is designed to protect family reunion rules for asylum-seekers beyond Brexit.

The clause which was tabled by four peers including Alf Dubs, a former child refugee, aims to ensure that rights under UK law to family reunion, at present covered by EU legislation, known as the Dublin 111 treaty, will continue after the transition period ends.

The Dublin rules allow asylum seekers to be transferred to another member state to join family as they claim asylum but this will cease to apply when the transition period comes to an end on 31st December. The amendment was voted for by a significant majority of 317 votes to 223 against.  The amended bill will return to the House of Commons, where the government may use its large majority to overturn the defeat.

Lord Dubs said, speaking after the vote, “Families should be together.  The government defeat demonstrates the strength of feeling that we should not abandon our humanity and compassion by removing the right of children to be reunited with relatives here in the UK”. I would now urge the government to put their own words into practice, by rethinking its policy and supporting this amendment when it comes before the Commons”.

“Since 2015, 3079 people have transferred to the UK under the Dublin regulation, including 714 transfers in 2019, to be reunited with their families as they claim asylum.  The Dublin regulations have been at the heart of the recent debate over the UK’s asylum policy, with the UK government arguing they are ‘rigid, inflexible and abused by migrants and activist lawyers”.

Humanitarian groups and charities have however, said the rules provide one of a small number of remaining safe and legal routes for asylum seekers to reach the UK.  In the absence of these legal routes, they argue, migrants are turning to high risk attempts to reach the UK, which include crossing the Channel in small boats.  More than 7,000 migrants have reached the UK in small boats so far this year.

Chief executive of Safe Passage International, Beth Gardiner-Smith said: “This defeat should be a wake up call to the government that providing a safe and legal way for vulnerable refugee children from Europe to be reunited with their families is not only the moral thing to do but the will of a cross party collaboration across the house and local authorities”. Boris Johnson promised child refugees a path to safety, he has an opportunity now with this cross-party challenge to the immigration bill to secure it.  The clock is ticking to the end of the year and unless the government acts now on the 1st January family reunion from Europe will end, shutting the door on safe and legal routes for children to be reunited with family in the UK.  By accepting the amendment the government can fulfil its promise and ensure no child would be left alone in Europe without access to safe-legal routes to the UK”.

The executive director of Medecins Sans Frontieres UK, the humanitarian NGO, Vickie Hawkins, said: “It has been deeply disheartening to have watched the UK government abdicate their responsibilities by attempting to close down some of the few existing routes to safety for refugees and asylum seekers within Europe.  This amendment gives the UK government a chance to take steps towards rectifying this.  It is surely the bare minimum to ensure that safe routes to sanctuary in the UK stay open for unaccompanied children.  We sincerely hope that the UK government with show some humanity and accept this amendment”.