Press Release- Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill

June 10, 2021

Liberal Democrat peer Sarah Ludford is tabling new legislation that would mean more refugee children, torn apart by war, conflict and persecution, are able to reunite safely in the UK.

Baroness Ludford introduced the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill in the House of Lords on Tuesday 8th June. Backed by the Families Together Coalition[1], a group of leading organisations who support refugees and people seeking asylum, it would expand the UK’s current family reunion rules so that child refugees can bring their parents and siblings to join them in the UK, as well as allowing refugees to be joined by their dependent children over 18.

With nearly 30,000 visas granted in the last five years – 9 in 10 of which are given to women and children – refugee family reunion is a vital safe route for those who have been separated from their loved ones. However, the current rules only allow an adult refugee to sponsor their spouse/partner and children under the age of 18 to join them, meaning many are excluded from holding their loved ones again after going through the immense trauma of fleeing their homes.

Worryingly, rather than seeking to make it easier for refugee families to reunite, the UK Government’s recently announced proposals for reform of the asylum system could make it much harder. The proposals include the introduction of a new “temporary protection” status for refugees who arrived irregularly into the UK, which only provides limited access to family reunion.

A refugee in the UK and Ambassador from the VOICES network[2] – a group of refugees and people seeking asylum who amplify their experiences – explained the pain of family separation, “It is a difficult time and it is not a time of peace. You live in fear, worrying and not knowing what is going to happen to your family.”

Another refugee, a young person who is desperate to reunite with his parents,said, “I am unable to concentrate on my studies, and when I go home I always think about them. At night, I do not sleep.”

Ahead of the introduction of her Private Members’ Bill, Liberal Democrat peer Sarah Ludford said:

“We must do all we can to protect people forced to flee their homes to escape war and persecution, and that includes reuniting them with their families.

“The UK has a proud history of providing sanctuary to those in need, but now the Conservative Government is turning its back on refugees and failing to live up to our obligations to them. It is simply wrong to keep child refugees separated from their parents.

“If Priti Patel is serious about combatting people smuggling and supporting vulnerable women and children, she should support my Bill. Providing safe and legal routes like this for refugees and their families to come to the UK is the best way to tackle these criminal gangs and prevent people from making dangerous attempts to cross the Channel.

“The UK should welcome refugees and treat all seekers of sanctuary with dignity and compassion.”

Andy Hewett, Spokesperson for the Families Together Coalition said:

“Refugee Family Reunion is a vital way for families who have been torn apart to be safely reunited. Nine in 10 of those who come to the UK through family reunion are women and children, allowing them to be with their loved ones again. Through our organisations’ work we see the pain and continued trauma that being separated from family causes for people who have had to leave everything they knew behind.

“If the intention is to strengthen safe routes for those seeking protection in the UK and reduce irregular journeys, then expanding family reunion for all refugees is a step towards that. This Bill is an important step towards making the UK’s asylum system fairer, humane and more efficient by making it easier for all refugee families to reunite.”

The bill can be found here;


Notes to editors

A similar Private Members’ Bill, tabled by Liberal Democrat peer Sally Hamwee in 2017, was passed by the House of Lords in 2018 but was not given time to be debated in the Commons.

Currently, an adult refugee can sponsor their spouse or partner and under-18 children to join them. However, unlike every EU country except Denmark and Switzerland, the UK does not allow unaccompanied child refugees to sponsor family members to join them.

The Government withdrew from the broader EU-wide ‘Dublin’ system for refugee family reunion at the end of the transition period in December 2020.

[1] The Families Together Coalition is a group of 60 organisations calling for the government to allow more refugee families to be reunited in the UK, without the need to make dangerous, often life-threatening journeys. 

[2] The VOICES Network is a group of refugees and people seeking asylum, experts by experience, who amplify their voices to influence policy and practice.