A recent report by the British Red Cross finds that the system which gives refugees who are granted asylum in the UK the right to safely bring their family to join them is in fact putting people in danger.
When someone has been granted refugee status in the UK, they can apply for close family members to join them so that they can rebuild their lives together in safety. Family reunion is a vital way to bring families who have been separated by war and violence back together again. But the recent report by the British Red Cross has shown many risks which people have to take during the Refugee Family Reunion application process.
In some cases children and adults are forced to navigate war zones, flee sexual violence, hide for fear of imprisonment or abuse and are forced to pay smugglers, just to be able to reach the place where their paperwork can be processed, by officials acting for the Home Office.
After communicating with 100 families, the charity estimates that 49 per cent of them had found the process exposed them to enormous risks just to provide documents and personal information such as fingerprints.
In the report ‘The Long Road to Reunion’ making refugee family reunion safer, the British Red Cross made a series of simple recommendations to the Home Office in order to make this route safer.
The recommendations include only asking people to travel to visa application centres to provide information and to collect their decision after the Home Office have made a positive decision from supporting paperwork submitted online, and ensuring visa application centres are properly equipped to process applications so that people do not have to return several times.
One particular family had told the British Red Cross of the absolute fear they had as the wife had to cross a country border occupied by militants to reach the Visa Application Centre that she needed to attend as part of the application process, as there was no centre in the country where she lived. Her husband who is now a refugee in the UK and who new very well of the dangers of this journey told of the moment he heard from his wife after hours of no contact as she crossed the closed border in the hands of a smuggler. He felt immense relief as it was dangerous and difficult for his wife. There was the distinct possibility that she could be kidnapped.
The wife could not risk returning home while waiting for the outcome of her application stayed with family who lived in a nearby province. Even though she was living closer to the Visa Application Centre and able to start the family reunion process there were many more problems as she needed permission to travel from local authorities. It eventually took a further nine months for the application to be processed and approved. It was three years in total until they were finally reunited in the UK.
This recent report has come at a time when there is intense security on how people are able to reach protection in the UK in order to rebuild their lives in safety.
The Home Secretary recently outlined the urgent need for compassionate asylum reform, including a need for more safe routes to be introduced. However, the charity’s research shows that existing ‘safe’ and ‘legal’ routes of family reunion has many barriers that are putting people at risk.
Refugee and Asylum Policy Manager at British Red Cross, John Featonby said: “Refugee family reunion is currently one of the only safe and legal ways for families separated by war, persecution and violence to be reunited with their loved ones. Yet as our report shows too many families face incredible risk and difficulties to make this happen”.
“We welcome the Home Secretary’s recent proposal for more safe and legal routes, but we must address how the existing routes can be made safer. We urge the Home Office to action these recommendations so that people don’t have to make dangerous journey’s to escape the same horrors from which their family fled.