Written Evidence submitted by Safe Passage International (CHA0024)
Future arrangements for safe, legal routes for family reunion and claiming asylum in the UK, and the effectiveness of current Government initiatives to re-unite families
About Safe Passage International
- Safe Passage International is a strategic legal organisation working to ensure people can access safe and legal routes to asylum.
- Our legal work focuses primarily on reuniting unaccompanied children with family members in the UK via EU Regulation No. 604/2013, commonly known as the Dublin III Regulation.
- Family reunion under the Dublin III Regulation (EU Regulation No. 604/2013) is currently the only legal pathway to reach the UK from the EU for the purposes of claiming asylum. Since 2015, according to the latest Home Office figures, 3,223 people have been able to safely and legally travel to the UK from the EU under the family reunion provisions of the Dublin Regulation.
- Safe Passage International has directly supported over 300 people to transfer to the UK safely under the Dublin Regulation. The clients we represent – predominantly unaccompanied and vulnerable children – regularly wait many months, sometimes years for Dublin transfer, often because of unlawful Home Office refusals that must be challenged in court. Frustrated by delays, often living in challenging circumstances and desperate to reach their loved ones, many contemplate absconding and taking their chances crossing the Channel by dinghy, lorry or other means. Persuading children to stay in the system and wait for Dublin transfer, rather than attempting the journey themselves, is a common and reoccurring element of our work.
- Despite these challenges, Dublin III has undoubtedly provided hundreds of people with a safe way to reach the UK. We are therefore deeply concerned by the prospect of this vital safe and legal route closing at the end of the Brexit transition period, and the potential increase in people having no option but to attempt to cross the Channel as a result.
- The prospective end to family reunion follows the recent closure of section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 (commonly known as the Dubs scheme), the only safe and legal route to the UK for unaccompanied child refugees in the EU who do not have family in the UK. In recent months, the numbers of unaccompanied children crossing the Channel has increased, with 85 reported to have arrived in Kent in June and 80 in July. Although it is not possible to show a direct correlation between the closure of section 67 and the increase in crossings, the rise in numbers of children risking their lives in dinghies shows that the need for section 67, or an equivalent replacement, remains as pressing as ever.
- Combined, the government’s decision to end transfers under section 67, and its intention to end Dublin family reunion, represent the cessation of the only safe and legal ways a child in the EU can reach the UK to claim asylum.
- To avoid a further rise in the numbers of unaccompanied children crossing the Channel, the government should: guarantee that family reunion, as per the conditions laid out in Dublin III, continues after the transition period; and offer more unaccompanied children without family in the UK a safe route to sanctuary here.
The future of family reunion
- Having watered down its obligations to negotiate a replacement for family reunion in January 2020, the government published draft Brexit negotiating text in May 2020, laying out its proposed arrangements for the transfer of unaccompanied children after the transition period.
- The government maintains that this is a ‘detailed legal text providing for reunification,’ however Safe Passage International considers that the draft proposal is woefully inadequate and would materially reduce an individual’s rights to join their family in the UK, removing their right to challenge a negative decision and making the process entirely dependent on the discretionary powers of the Home Office.
- Even in the unlikely event that the UK government improves its proposed family reunion proposal, with less than four months remaining until the end of the transition period the clock is ticking on any agreement being reached with the EU.
- Indeed, according to latest reports, Member States have still not even agreed a negotiating mandate on this issue and do not intend to discuss family reunion at the next negotiating round in October.
- We are facing the very real possibility that the UK will not be able to negotiate a replacement for family reunion before the end of the transition period, which would result in many hundreds of people losing access to this safe and legal route overnight.
The consequences of Dublin family reunion ending
- In the absence of any family reunion pathway from January 2021, there is a significant risk that more people will attempt dangerous journeys to reach their relatives.
- Many of the individuals who have been transferred under the Dublin III Regulation would face extreme difficulty applying for family reunion under domestic Immigration Rules. 95% of Safe Passage cases reunite with family in the UK using the provisions contained within the Dublin III Regulation. Under the Immigration Rules, such families would have no enforceable right to reunite.
- Despite the government’s stated commitment to reducing the numbers of people crossing the Channel, we are facing a situation where its failure to negotiate a replacement for Dublin III , or enact domestic provisions that would safeguard family reunion, may mean many hundreds of people will lose their right to legally join their family in the UK, leaving them with no viable alternative but risking their lives if they want to reach their loved ones.
The end of section 67
- The filling of the 480 places for unaccompanied children under section 67 and the subsequent decision of the government to close this legal route means there is now no safe way that a child without family can reach the UK in order to seek sanctuary here.
- In a letter to Conservative MPs ahead of the Immigration Bill’s second reading in June 2020, the Minister for Future Borders and Immigration stated that in “2019, the UK received 3,651 asylum applications from unaccompanied children, a rise of 19% on the previous year.”
- However, this position fails to acknowledge that only a fraction of those children were able to access a place under section 67, with many having only been able to reach the UK in order to claim asylum by risking their lives.
- A reported10,000 unaccompanied children have arrived in the UK via lorry since 2010, and in recent months the numbers arriving by boat has increased dramatically.
- When highlighting the numbers of unaccompanied children claiming asylum in the UK, the government has consistently failed to acknowledge that many of these have only reached the UK by crossing the Channel or other dangerous means.
- Indeed, many local authorities have themselves highlighted their concern about the absence of safe and legal routes to the UK for the children in their care. In a letter to the Prime Minister in June 2020, local authorities stated that “Guaranteeing access to safe passage, such as family reunion and the Dubs scheme, will help us, as local authorities, plan and prepare for children’s arrivals. And critically, it will give more children a safe alternative to stepping onto the back of a lorry.”
- The Home Affairs Committee inquiry has recently received evidence from the Home Office confirming that, contrary to the impressions presented by some politicians and some elements of the media, the vast majority of those who risk their lives crossing the Channel are refugees.
- There is no legal obligation on people to claim asylum in other EU countries before reaching the UK, and an individual who does not claim asylum on their journey is not disqualified from refugee status in the UK.
- The UK receives far fewer asylum claims than Germany, France, Greece or Spain. It has similar numbers of claims to Sweden and Belgium, but relative to their smaller populations both these countries have received many more asylum claims per capita.
Recommendations: protect safe and legal routes to avoid children risking their lives
- Since 2016, family reunion and section 67 have helped hundreds of children safely reach the UK in order to claim asylum. For many unaccompanied child refugees in the EU, they are the only safe pathway to sanctuary and the only alternative to a dangerous journey across the Channel.
- As part of efforts to reduce the numbers of dangerous Channel crossings, the government should take urgent action to ensure that family reunion continues after the transition period.
- Safe Passage International supports the position of the House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee, set out in its letter to the Home Secretary ‘urging the UK and the EU…to negotiate an interim agreement in a no deal scenario [with] A temporary extension of the current [Dublin Family Reunion] arrangements the most feasible option.’
- However, given the very real possibility that the transition period will end without an agreed extension to or replacement of Dublin III, the government can take steps now to protect family reunion by supporting cross-party amendments to the Immigration Bill that will preserve family reunion in primary legislation. The government should also extend the family reunion rules and restart resettlement schemes.
- The government should also review its decision to end section 67 transfers and commit to offering more children a safe and legal pathway to the UK.
 Under Articles 8, 9, 10 and 17.2 https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/asylum-and-resettlement-datasets#dublin-regulation
In January 2020, Parliament passed section 37 of the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2019-2020. Section 37 abolished a previous requirement on government to seek to negotiate an alternative to replace the family reunion provisions within the EU Dublin III Regulation.
 Asylum claims 2019: Germany 71,390; France 32,440; Greece 25,160; Spain 21,705; the UK 10,295; Sweden 8,545; Belgium 7,175 https://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/submitViewTableAction.do