Refugee Families Face Continued Seperation from Loved Ones Despite Easing of Covid-19 Restrictions

June 21, 2021

With the prospect of all COVID restrictions being lifted in the UK in the next 4 weeks, families across the country are looking forward to being able to reunite with one another, to see the return of birthday parties, school graduation celebrations, Sunday afternoon family dinners. Yet, for many refugee’s living in the UK there is no prospect of being reunited with their family members safely in the UK, leaving them facing continued separation from their loved ones.

Under the current family reunion rules, adult refugees in the UK can be joined via family reunion by their spouse/partner and their dependent children who are under the age of 18. This means that those family members who have become separated but are not covered by the rules are left with the invidious choice of staying put in insecure and dangerous places or embarking on treacherous, expensive, unregulated journeys. The restrictions mean, for example, that parents are not automatically able to bring their child who has turned 18, even if that child is still dependent on them and has not married or formed their own family. While the family reunion guidance does allow cases not covered by the rules to be granted in exceptional circumstances, in reality this rarely happens.

‘Being separated from my family was really hard. I couldn’t concentrate properly. I got depression and received anti-depression medicine and counselling. My wife was pregnant when I left home and she had a difficult pregnancy. She suffered from severe anemia and other pregnancy-related complications. She ended up having a caesarean section and I was unable to be there. It was difficult for me to be without them, but also for them to be without me.’ – Anwar

Children who are in the UK alone and who are recognised as refugees have no right to be reunited with even their closest family members. Because of this rule, children living in safety in the UK must live without their family in perpetuity. The psychological impact of separation limits people’s ability to integrate- dealing with worry, with depression, guilt. Family members can promote smooth and more rapid integration of refugee families given that they can reinforce the social support system of refugees.

I feel the UK family reunion laws are unfair; I have refugee status, but I cannot sponsor my close family members. Life is tough and difficult without family. I do not have peace of mind and I constantly worry about my future and my family. If my mother and siblings were here with me in the UK, I could have peace of mind, settlement and a clear plan for my future. It is difficult to have a stable life without a family.’ – Merhawi, an unaccompanied minor who arrived in the UK aged 14.

With the stroke of a pen, Prime Minister Boris Johnson could change the rules. To help get his attention, over 70 household names from film, TV and the literary world have written to the Prime Minister – but, we need your help too. Please take action via Amnesty UK or Refugee Council to send the PM a message to change the rules so that refugee families can finally be reunited and move on with their lives.