Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

Written evidence submitted by unicef uk (ISSB33)

immigration & Social Security Co-ordination (EU withdrawal) Bill

unicef uk

 

UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, is mandated by the UN General Assembly to uphold the Convention on the Rights of the Child and promote the rights and wellbeing of every child. It is in this role that Unicef UK submits evidence to the Public Bill Committee of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill with the aim of ensuring that when the UK leaves the European Union, the Bill includes makes adequate provision for refugee children seeking to be reunited with family here in the UK.

Together with partners, UNICEF works in over 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. Unicef UK is one of 3 4 National Committees.

1. Introduction

 

1.1 Although the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill is focused on EU nationals, its effects after Brexit will be wide-ranging, introducing a common immigration system which will cover all nationalities. As such, the Bill provides an opportunity to anticipate and remove anomalies in the current system that will affect refugee children already in Europe as well as those outside Europe who have family members in the UK who could care for them.

1.2 UNICEF UK proposes making changes to the Immigration Rules through the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination Bill to address the potential loss of the family reunion aspects of the Dublin III Directive by inserting a broader definition of family member into the Rules. This is to ensure that separated children who have been left alone and at risk are able to reach those who are best placed to care for them.

2. safeguarding children through uniting & reuniting families

 

2.1 All children deserve the safety and security of being with their loved ones, yet too few children facing conflict and persecution are being supported to reunite with family members. Family separation creates additional hardship for families who have already experienced many difficulties, and it can result in children risking their lives on desperate and dangerous journeys, often to flee conflict and avoid risks such as recruitment into armed groups or forced marriage.

2.2 These children may have parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or adult brothers and sisters in the UK. The UK’s current Immigration Rules provide for the right of parents with refugee or humanitarian status to sponsor their under 18-year-old children [1] to join them in the UK [2] , but do not provide this right to other family members. Close family members who are not parents but who want to sponsor a child have to rely on a UK Entry Clearance Officer exercising their discretion to admit that child as an exceptional case outside of the Rules, which relevant Home Office guidance notes ‘is likely to be appropriate only rarely’. [3] In 2015, 21, and, in 2016, 49 family reunion visas were issued outside the Immigration Rules, [4] though these figures will include cases involving dependent adults as well as children.

2.3 For refugee children already in the EU, the Dublin III Regulation determines which EU state decides a person’s asylum application. Under the Dublin III Regulation an unaccompanied child who has made an asylum application has the right to have their asylum application transferred to another EU state where they have a parent or other close relative. Although it does not guarantee that a child’s asylum claim will be granted, the Dublin III Regulation has served in practice as a mechanism for reuniting children with their families within Europe. Under Dublin III, children are able to join extended family which includes uncles, aunts, grandparents and adult siblings. In 2017, 92 unaccompanied children were transferred from other European countries to join parents or extended family members in the UK. [5]

3. refugee family reunion after Brexit

 

3.1 In Dec 2017, the Minister of State for the Home Office said the Government was considering how to make improvements to family reunion as part of a wider asylum and resettlement strategy. [6] We still await the announcement of that strategy.

3.2 In the recent Immigration White Paper, the Government asserted: ‘We subscribe to the principles of the EU Dublin Regulation to ensure those in need of protection claim asylum in the first safe country they reach and to facilitate the reunion of family groups, so their asylum claim can be considered together. We intend to seek an agreement on this with the EU or with individual Member States.’ [7] This follows an earlier Government response during debates on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill that, while ‘we value co-operation with our European partners on asylum and we want that co-operation to continue . . . the way to ensure that is through the negotiations.’ [8] To date, it is unclear what, if any, arrangements will apply in the meantime, when new arrangements will be in place, and whether they will cover all EU member states. However, draft Immigration, Nationality and Asylum (EU Exit) Regulations stipulate that, in the event of no deal, the Dublin Regulation would be revoked. [9]

3.3 In Dec 2017, the Law Commission began its work on simplifying the Immigration Rules at the request of the Home Office. Their report is now available, with options for consolidating the Rules set out in a consultation paper. [10] This exercise provides the Government with an opportunity to consolidate the refugee family reunion Rules so that applications to be reunited with extended family members who are in the UK are not treated as exceptional, but become a recognised, accepted route to ensure a child’s safety.

3.4 Post-Brexit, children in similar circumstances will only be able to rely on the UK Immigration Rules. Those seeking to be united with extended family members in the UK will have to argue and provide documentary evidence to prove their case is exceptional. This situation has the potential to lead to an increase in the number of unaccompanied children who feel forced to take dangerous journeys with smugglers and traffickers in order to reach their family here.

4. unicef uk recommendations

 

We are therefore calling on the UK Government:

§ To commit to amending the Immigration Rules on refugee family reunion to better facilitate close family members such as adult siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles who have refugee or humanitarian status to sponsor children in their family to join them in the UK, where this is in the child’s best interests.

§ To confirm through action its commitment to continuing to abide by the Dublin III Regulation.

4.1 This Bill provides an opportunity for the UK Government to commit to legislation their intention to introduce the changes required to protect the safe and legal routes currently available to refugee children seeking to reunite with family here in the UK. We therefore suggest the following amendment should be considered by the Bill Committee during their line-by-line scrutiny of the Bill:

( ) The Secretary of State must amend the immigration rules to ensure that an unaccompanied child who intends to make an application for international protection in the United Kingdom may, if it is in the child’s best interests, be granted leave to enter for that purpose if –

(a) the grant of leave to enter will permit that child to join a family member who –

(i) is a lawful resident of the United Kingdom, or

(ii) has made a protection claim which has not been decided, and

(b) the family member is a parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, adult brother or sister of the child

26 February 2019


[1] Who is not leading an independent life, is unmarried and is not a civil partner, and has not formed an independent family unit, and was part of the family unit of their parent at the time that their parent left the country of their habitual residence in order to seek asylum – Immigration Rules Part 11, paras 352D and 352FG

[2] Spouses and civil partners with refugee or humanitarian status also have the right under UK Immigration Rules to sponsor their spouses or civil partners to join them in the UK.

[3] Home Office (2016) Family reunion guidance, p.19

[4] House of Lords Hansard (15 Dec 2017) col.1784

[5] Home Office (2018) Immigration statistics, year ending September 2018.

[6] House of Lords Hansard (15 Dec 2017) col.1786

[7] HM Government (2018) The UK’s future skills-based immigration system, para.40.

[8] House of Commons Hansard (12 Dec 2017), col.289

[9] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2019/9780111180617/contents

[10] Law Commission (2019) Simplifying the Immigration Rules.

 

Prepared 28th February 2019