Children who have fled persecution, trafficking and torture to come to the UK are one step closer to being reunited with their close families abroad after MPs from across the political spectrum expressed their assent to the second reading of SNP’s Angus MacNeil’s Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill.
The Refugee Council hailed the vote a “huge step forward towards refugees in the UK being able to be reunited with their families.”
However as this is a Private Member’s Bill, without Theresa May’s government’s support, it is still unlikely to pass itno law.
Ministers insist that allowing reugee children to be joined by their parents and close family would encourage people to make a risky journey to the UK.
However the Labour Party, SNP, LibDems and many Tory MPs regard this as a common sense question of morality, as do charities and international bodies such as the Red Cross, Amnesty and the UNHCR.
Angus Macneil today told parliament that it is the “right thing” to do.
Ahead of today’s debate, The SNP MP said “people see this as a Good Samaritan Bill: everybody is on side.
“It’s not party political – any MP could have taken this from any party and it could have sat quite comfortably with their political philosophy.”
There's still time to ask your MP to vote for @AngusMacNeilSNP's Refugee Family Reunion Bill in Parliament this Friday to help keep refugee #FamiliesTogether: https://t.co/eMfWYzXKk9 @Refugees pic.twitter.com/F4I8wj3mVQ
— CARE InternationalUK (@careintuk) March 15, 2018
The bill also calls for reinstating legal aid for refugees so that they haveThe Conservatives’ cuts to legal aid have hit refugees as well as the family courts, with terrible scenes of teenage asylum seekers forced to account for themselves in court.
The Family Reunification Bill also seeks to increase age of children allowed to join refugee parents in the UK from 18 to 25.
The Labour Party said these measures “address anomalies” in the refugee system, effects a relatively small number of people, but would have a much needed “transformational” effect on their lives.
At present refugees who are over 18 can bring their families to UK. But bizarrely, children, who need their families even more, are unable to.
Shadow Immigration Minister @Afzal4Gorton responding for the Labour front bench, expressing our support for the second reading of the family reunification bill #FamiliesTogether ↓ pic.twitter.com/ftmAVajuac
— Diane Abbott (@HackneyAbbott) March 16, 2018
Labour’s shadow immigration minister Afzal Khan told the House of Commons: “we have a perverse situation where unaccompanied children are not allowed to bring their close family members to join them in the same way as an adult can.
“These are already some of the most vulnerable children in our society. They face language and cultural barriers, on top of the trauma of being forced to flee war and violence.
“We are one of the only countries in Europe that further denies them the right to reunite with their families. Evidence shows that refugees who are not permitted to be joined by close relatives struggle to integrate.”
He added: “reforming the refugee family reunion rules would be a simple but important step towards addressing the anomalies in our refugee system. It would affect a small number of people, but it would transform their lives.
“The Bill is based on liberal values of fairness, human rights and the protection of the most vulnerable. Labour Members will support its Second Reading, and I hope that all other Members will as well.”
Today, despite the stance of certain Conservatives and their Prime Minister, MPs from across the political spectrum called for families to be reunited.
“The key word here is ‘refugee’,” insited Conservative MP Anna Soubry. “Everybody forgets what and who a refugee is; this is somebody who is fleeing a place they love—their home. They do not want to leave it, but circumstances, that we cannot even begin to imagine, mean they literally grasp the first things that come to hand and flee their home looking for a place of refuge.” The “modest” measure, she said, would show the “type of Conservatives we are all proud to call ourselves”.
However her Tory colleague Will Quince, disagreed, insisting it is unhelpful for opponents of the bill to be portrayed as “cold-hearted.”
Former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said “compassion and common sense should take the place of pedantry”.
— The SNP (@theSNP) March 16, 2018
Emotive stories were detailed in today’s debate. Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley mentioned how he and his wife had taken in a refugee to their home, and asked Angus Macneil what sort of numbers would be affected.
“Between 800 and 1,000 at the moment,” replied the SNP MP. “It is not a huge number. I commend him for what he has done to help refugees in the past. He sees the benefits of that today in his personal life, and there are a number of similar examples of that from across the world.”
He added: “This Bill merely takes the UK into line with the rest of Europe. If I have any criticism of what I am trying to achieve, it is that my Bill is so small and unspectacular—so much so that we should have no problem in passing it. Someone would have to have a very hard heart or an empathy bypass not to want to ensure that the limited measures I ask for today become law. May I say how grateful I am for the support of people who have done well in life yet have made it their concern and business to use their position to help the least well-off in the world? Some are celebrities—actors and actresses, and pop stars—who have used their position to highlight this Bill and given their time very freely.”
— British Red Cross (@BritishRedCross) March 16, 2018