47: After Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—
“Refugee family reunion
(1) The Secretary of State must, within 6 months of the date of the passing of this Act, lay before Parliament a statement of changes in the rules (the “immigration rules”) under section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971 (general provisions for regulation and control) to make provision for refugee family reunion, in accordance with this section, to come into effect after 21 days. (2) Before a statement of changes is laid under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must consult with persons he or she deems appropriate.(3) The statement laid under subsection (1) must set out rules providing for leave to enter and remain in the United Kingdom for family members of a person granted refugee status or humanitarian protection.(4) In this section, “refugee status” and “humanitarian protection” have the same meaning as in the immigration rules.(5) In this section, “family members” include—(a) a person’s parent, including adoptive parent;(b) a person’s spouse, civil partner or unmarried partner;(c) a person’s child, including adopted child, who is either—(i) under the age of 18, or(ii) under the age of 25 but was either under the age of 18 or unmarried at the time the person granted asylum left their country of residence to seek asylum;(d) a person’s sibling, including adoptive sibling, who is either—(i) under the age of 18, or(ii) under the age of 25, but was either under the age of 18 or unmarried at the time the person granted asylum left their country of residence to seek asylum; and(e) such other persons as the Secretary of State may determine, having regard to—(i) the importance of maintaining family unity,(ii) the best interests of a child,(iii) the physical, emotional, psychological or financial dependency between a person granted refugee status or humanitarian protection and another person,(iv) any risk to the physical, emotional or psychological wellbeing of a person who was granted refugee status or humanitarian protection, including from the circumstances in which the person is living in the United Kingdom, or(v) such other matters as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.(6) For the purpose of subsection (5)—(a) “adopted” and “adoptive” refer to a relationship resulting from adoption, including de facto adoption, as set out in the immigration rules;(b) “best interests” of a child must be read in accordance with Article 3 of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would make provision for leave to enter or remain in the UK to be granted to the family members of refugees and of people granted humanitarian protection.
Baroness Ludford (LD)
My Lords, the Ukrainian family scheme drives a welcome coach and horses through the usual Home Office approach to refugee family reunion, which is to oppose anything but a very narrow definition of “family”. The Home Office, in my opinion, seeks to restrict this safe route very considerably. As I understand it, the new scheme would allow children as well as adults to sponsor parents, grandparents, siblings and their immediate families, as well as allowing adults to sponsor their children over 18. It does not go as far as Amendment 48 from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in including, for instance, reunion with an aunt or uncle, and I look forward to him speaking to that amendment.
The Ukrainian family scheme is not the normal, routine Home Office approach. That approach was expressed at Second Reading of my Private Member’s Bill on refugee family reunion, and in Committee in response to my amendment, which was essentially the text of that Private Member’s Bill, as is Amendment 47 today.
In Committee on this Bill, the Minister said that the Home Office recognised
“that in some cases there will be exceptional and compassionate circumstances which warrant a grant of leave”
for the purposes of family reunion and that the guidance on exceptional circumstances would be “published in due course”. Can the Minister tell us what progress has been made in publishing that guidance? Yet again, as so often, the basis of the policy is just the exercise of discretion. It does not give certainty.
The Ukrainian family scheme is of course welcome, but in its recognition that, having fled to safety, refugees need their families, it should be a precedent, not an exception. As to allowing children to bring in family members, the Minister said at Committee stage of this Bill that
“noble Lords will at least grant that I have been consistent in opposing that sort of policy, because of its negative consequences”,
which, she claimed would creative incentives for children to be encouraged and forced
“to leave their family and risk extremely dangerous journeys to the UK in order to sponsor relatives.”—[Official Report, 8/2/22; col. 1474.]
In fact, it is the lack of safe routes such as family reunion that force dangerous journeys. Families Together, the coalition of 90 NGOs, talks about how the existing rules mean
“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.”
I agree with another NGO, the excellent Safe Passage, that:
“Safe routes save lives, reunite families and support refugees to rebuild their lives … welcomed by our communities.”
I hope that the Government will take the precedent of the Ukrainian family scheme and widen it out to their family reunion policies. I beg to move.
Lord Dubs (Lab)
My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 48 in particular. I say at the outset that I am grateful to the Minister for the trouble she has taken to give me a chance to talk to her and her officials about the clause and the Government’s view of it. Although I do not think that either of us was persuaded by the other as a result of our conversation, nevertheless I am grateful for the trouble she went to.
I want to just say a word or two about the background. Until we left the EU we had the benefit of the Dublin treaty, particularly Dublin III. To summarise, the benefit of that was that a refugee child or a child claiming refugee status could seek to join a relative living in this country. For example, a Syrian boy in France could apply to join an uncle in Birmingham or Manchester. That worked fairly well. The figures show that it was quite successful and it was an important part of reuniting families.
When we were concerned that Brexit would put an end to all this because the Dublin treaty would no longer apply, this House passed an amendment to the 2017 legislation so that the Government would negotiate to continue the family reunion provision after we left the EU. That was passed by this House on a vote, it was eventually accepted by the Government in the Commons and it became the law of the land. Then came the 2019 legislation and the Government took the provision out again, for reasons we never understood. Many of us were alarmed that something that had been passed could just be reversed, as it were, by other legislation.
Partly to conciliate me, I think, the Minister arranged a meeting. I was quite surprised that there were three Government Ministers and seven officials at the meeting, and me: it was sort of 10 to one. The effort was made to persuade me that everything would be all right under the then Immigration Rules. The then Immigration Minister was Brandon Lewis. He looked me in the eye and said, “Don’t you trust me?” I found this quite difficult. I said, first, “There is no guarantee you will stay in your job for very long.” Indeed, within weeks he was promoted to Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Secondly, I said, “I may trust you personally but I don’t trust the Government.” I am afraid that is still my position on this legislation.
I outlined some of the other things we have been doing in the debate on a previous group so I will not go over them again, but what I have outlined is an extremely generous and expansive package befitting the need of Ukrainians for our refuge and protection. On that point, I hope that noble Lords will withdraw or not press their amendments.
Baroness Ludford (LD)
My Lords, I have listened carefully to the Minister. I still hope that some lessons will be learned from the Ukrainian family scheme, about which we will probably have some exchanges shortly. I hope for wider reform in future. I heard everything the Minister said but I still think that there needs to be fundamental reform of the family reunion rules for all the good reasons expressed in this debate. However, I am not going to make any further progress so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 47 withdrawn.