Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill

Memorandum submitted by the British Red Cross (LA 68)

1. The British Red Cross provides practical and emotional support to vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers in the UK. Our services include:

· supporting refugees to adapt to life in a new country through our orientation service

· peer befriending for unaccompanied young refugees

· providing one-to-one social and emotional support for refugee women through our women in crisis projects

· bringing about the reunion of separated families through our family reunion and resettlement service (which is often complemented by our family tracing and messaging service)

2. In recent years, we have seen large numbers of asylum-seekers facing destitution in the UK. We provide short-term emergency support and advice on support that may be available.

3. We have seen the Memorandum submitted to the Public Bill Committee by Still Human Still Here. For several years, we have worked with many of the members of that campaign seeking to address the problem of destitution among asylum-seekers. We recognise the concerns and the analysis set out in that Memorandum, which we support.

4. In addition we wish to make the following points about refugee family reunion:

4.1. The Bill seeks to exclude Legal Aid for refugee family reunion. The Government has explained this as follows [1] :

Applications to join family members are treated as immigration cases, and are generally straightforward because they follow a grant of asylum. Respondents argued that these cases are akin to claims for asylum but if a person wishes to claim asylum it is open to that person to do so either as a dependant of a primary asylum claimant or to do so in his or her own right. Legal aid for any such asylum claim will be in scope.

4.2 This matter was discussed with both the UK Border Agency and Ministry of Justice at the August 2011 meeting of the National Asylum Stakeholder Forum [2] , on which the British Red Cross is represented. Our understanding is that the Government now accept it is no answer to the proposed removal of Legal Aid that family members claim asylum in these cases. These family members are not in the UK, and so would need to travel here, possibly risking exploitation or other dangers including at the hands of people smugglers, in order to be able to make an asylum claim.

4.3. These cases are often not straightforward. Our experience is that family reunion cases can involve significant challenges in evidence gathering and presentation, including but not limited to requirements for DNA testing which in many cases could not be afforded but for Legal Aid [3] . Moreover, advising and assisting with refugee family reunion applications falls within regulated immigration advice [4] , and hence is not something an agency is permitted to do unless having demonstrated general competence to provide immigration advice (the competency standards are higher for more complex advice work and providing representation at appeals) [5] .

4.3. The Government acknowledges that litigants "from a predominantly physically or emotionally vulnerable group" [6] should be prioritised for Legal Aid as being generally unable to present their own cases. However, whether one is considering the sponsoring refugee (i.e. the refugee in the UK seeking to be reunited with family overseas) or the applicants for refugee family reunion visas (i.e. the family members overseas applying to come to the UK to join the refugee), the group would fall within the Government’s categorisation. The refugees we work with distressed by their ongoing separation from family (including partners and children) and the situations facing their separated family members. Continued separation can constitute a major hurdle to rehabilitation from trauma and integration in the UK.

4.4. As we have indicated, continued separation from family members is a barrier to refugee integration. In April 2010, Scottish Refugee Council concluded [7] :

A final important point highlighted by refugees and agencies working with them throughout this report is the link between family reunion and integration. There is focus by government in both Westminster and Holyrood concerning the integration of refugees, and help is being provided regarding obtaining work, education and language training. However, the evidence presented here indicates that all such help may be rendered worthless if refugees are not able to rebuild their lives with their families. The difficulty both in terms of time being used to pursue reunion and overall health and wellbeing for refugees living apart from their loved ones is an important finding of this research.

In his written statement to the House of Commons on the current family migration consultation, Damian Green MP, Minister for Immigration, emphasised the importance of integration [8] . However, the Government is making significant cuts in funding for refugee integration, including withdrawing all Refugee Integration and Employment Service funding from September this year [9] . If Legal Aid is also withdrawn for refugee family reunion, this will be a further barrier to the prospects of integration by refugees. Moreover, for many of those who continue to suffer the distress of family separation, steps such as recovering from trauma, learning English, settling in the community and finding a job may simply prove impossible.

September 2011

[1] Ministry of Justice: Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales : the Government Response , June 2011, Cm 8072, page 28, para. 90

[2] National Asylum Stakeholder Forum (NASF) meeting of 4 August 2011, held at Lunar House, Croydon

[3] This was discussed at the August 2011 NASF meeting, when the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association highlighted that whereas DNA testing is frequently required by the UK Border Agency and while the Agency has powers to pay for that testing it does not generally pay for this testing in respect of the sponsor refugee in the UK and payment is often covered by way of a disbursement charged to Legal Aid funds

[4] Part V, Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 establishing the Immigration Services Commissioner and regulation and criminal sanctions in respect of immigration advice and services

[5] Three of our offices in the UK have been granted exemption by the OISC (Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner) permitting advice to be given at Level 1 (this permits initial advice only)

[6] Ministry of Justice op cit , page 11, para. 6ii)

[7] Scottish Refugee Council: ‘One Day We Will Be Reunited’: Experiences of Refugee Family Reunion in the UK , April 2010 , page 51

[8] Hansard HC, 13 July 2011 : Column 28-29WS (Family Migration)

[9] More information about the withdrawal of Refugee Integration and Employment Service funding is available at:

Prepared 7th September 2011