In my recent speech on Labour values and immigration, I outlined that under a Labour government parents or carers of child refugees living in Britain would be given the right to move to the UK, and that we would end the heart-breaking situation where some parents with the right to be here suffer the heartbreak of seeing their children deported because they have turned 18 and are longer strictly dependants.
These commitments show Labour is committed to upholding respect for the humanity of refugees and migrants, and intend to respect the right to a family life, a part of the European Convention on Human Rights.
There is increasing opposition to the fact that the current immigration rules on refugee family reunion only cater for a refugee’s ‘pre-flight’ partner and dependent children (under 18), and do not allow unaccompanied refugee children to sponsor applications from family members.
Furthermore, whilst adult refugees have a legal right under UK and international law to be reunited with their children and partner, if they are still overseas, currently it is the case that the government grants a small number of child refugees each year a right to remain, but denies some of their parents or carers leave to stay.
Refugee action and other campaigners believe that the UK’s current refugee family reunion rules are not always working in other ways too.
Last year, the Red Cross helped to reunite more than 250 families torn apart by conflict or natural disaster. The Red Cross look at 91 of those cases in their family reunion report, which shows that family reunion can be very complex.
In particular, the current rules can exclude the complex relationships that affect families torn apart by war – for example, people caring for orphaned younger siblings, or unaccompanied children who’ve been separated from their parents.
As Mariam Kemple Hardy, head of campaigns at Refugee Action, has explained: “Our asylum system is leaving vulnerable families and individuals, many of whom have fled war and persecution, homeless and hungry. People are treated like criminals for seeking sanctuary.”
More generally speaking when it comes to the ongoing refugee crisis, it’s nearly two and half years since the world was shocked by the pictures of Syrian child refugee Alan Kurdi, yet this government is still failing refugees and child refugees in particular.
The truth is that the government is failing to meet our international obligations and wriggling out of its obligation to accept child refugees, shutting the door on the most vulnerable.
Welcoming our recent commitments, director of Amnesty International UK Kate Allen, said: “Child refugees are some of the most vulnerable people in the UK. Having fled the horrors of war and persecution, many now arrive in this country facing the heart-breaking prospect that they may never see their parents or siblings again.”
On our part, Labour commits to protecting some of the most vulnerable children in the world. We know that it’s tough for all kids now to make their own way in the world at 18. And that applies to all kids.
For this reason, under a Labour government, if you are a child granted the right to be here, so will your parents or carers. If you have been brought up by carers or parents with a right to be here, so will you, even after you turn 18.
Let’s keep the pressure up on this vital issue. The government needs to change course.
Diane Abbott is shadow home secretary and MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.