Imagine this. You live in the UK but your family are stuck on the other side of the world. Your children are growing up fast and soon they won’t remember you. But all is not lost – you could still be reunited. To be in with a chance, all you have to do is fill in a form.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? The trouble is the form is long, complicated and doesn’t make sense. Suddenly, the odds of seeing your family again feel very small indeed.
This is the situation facing many refugees in the UK today. The government used to provide free legal help and advice to refugees to fill in this form and start the process of being reunited with their families.
But now the government has cut this legal aid and many refugees who we work with are suffering the consequences.
Speaking up for refugees
Members of the British Red Cross went to meet with MPs this month. We explained the impacts that cutting legal aid has had on many refugees who the Red Cross helps. The team also presented the first draft of a new report on this issue.
We asked the MPs and Lords to change the family reunion form to make it simpler.
We also asked for the government to provide funding for more complex family reunion cases and appeals.
Form proves too tricky for MP
Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams, who helped set up the meeting, invited us to visit his office so he could take up the challenge to fill in a family reunion application form.
As expected, he was unable to fill in the form successfully, highlighting just how difficult it is.
Other parliamentarians and their researchers have since volunteered to attempt to complete the form in their own time. We wish them luck – they’ll need it!
Hope for separated families
After MPs had heard our findings, our head of policy Jonathan Ellis was invited to speak to the Minister of State, Lord McNally. Jonathan presented the Red Cross’ report and recommendations on family reunion and legal support. Discussions are now progressing with the Minister. Watch this space!
Nadine was separated from her son for over a year before they were reunited with help from the Red Cross. Mohamed had to leave his wife and five children after fleeing Syria and missed them every day until we could bring them together.