Written evidence submitted by the British Red Cross (FRE0046)
British Red Cross submission to the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union on Refugee Family Reunion after Brexit.
24 June 2020
About the British Red Cross
- The British Red Cross has over 19,600 volunteers in the UK and nearly 3,900 staff. We are part of the world’s largest humanitarian network, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, which has 17 million volunteers across 191 countries.
- The British Red Cross supports hundreds of families who have been separated by war, violence and persecution to reunite safely in the UK each year through the UK’s Refugee Family Reunion Rules and the Dublin III Regulation (Dublin System).
- Since 2014, the Dublin System has become an increasingly important route for families across Europe who have been separated by war and persecution to be reunited; over the past two years 1617 people have been reunited in the UK. At the end of the transition period the Dublin System will cease to apply leaving some separated families without a safe, legal route to reunion and increasing the risk that people will resort to more dangerous alternatives.
- During the transition period the UK has confirmed its intention under the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 and Statement of Policy (16 March 2020) to negotiate an agreement that would retain the family reunion elements of the Dublin System for unaccompanied separated children. A draft agreement was published on 19 May 2020 and currently part of the negotiations.
- We recommend that:
The UK Government should seek to negotiate an agreement with Dublin Member States to retain the family reunion rights for all separated families.
The UK Government should ensure that the family reunion elements of the Dublin System continue beyond the transition period if an agreement has not been secured
The UK Government should ensure families can continue to be reunited irrespective of the outcome of negotiations by amending UK Immigration Rules to better mirror the family reunion elements of the Dublin System
The UK Government should work with other Member States to ensure outstanding family reunion transfers are submitted to the UK before ‘the end of the transition period’
- There are two main routes that refugee and asylum-seeking families can currently access to reunite in the UK. These are the UK’s own domestic immigration legislation, set out in the Immigration Rules, and the European Union’s Dublin System.
- In Part 11 of the immigration rules a refugee can apply to be reunited with their pre-existing spouse/partner and children under 18. In contrast, the Dublin System is the process of determining which Member State is responsible for assessing an asylum claim and the transfer of the asylum-seeker and claim to that Member State. This includes transfers for the purpose of family reunification.
- While an average of around 5,500 people are reunited under the UK’s domestic legislation, over recent years the Dublin System has become a progressively important route for families across Europe to reunite in the UK. In 2014, only 31 people were reunited through the System—by 2018 this had increased to 1,028. In 2019 589 people were reunited and the number of requests for reunification were at their highest since 2014 – 1342.
- In the past two years the largest group of people being reunited in the UK through the Dublin System were those coming through Article 9 of the Dublin III Regulation. Article 9 allows those who have applied for asylum in one Dublin Member State to be reunited with a family member who has been recognised as a refugee by another Member State. In 2019, 52% of family reunions through the Dublin System were through Article 9 compared to around 28% separated children were reunited with family members in the UK.
Key gaps between Immigration Rules and Dublin III Regulations
- British Red Cross analysis has identified significant circumstances where the Dublin III Regulation allows families to reunite that are not replicated in domestic legislation. Article 9 of the Dublin III Regulation is similar to Part 11 of the UK’s immigration rules, but is more generous in a number of key ways:
For example, the British Red Cross has worked with Kuwaiti Bidoon families who would be eligible to be reunited under the UK’s domestic rules but, due to their lack of status within Kuwait, are unable to provide the necessary documentation. These families have been forced to travel to Greece in order to make an application under the Dublin Regulation to be reunited under Article 9.
- Lower evidential requirements to prove family link
- Allows children with refugee status in the UK to be joined by their parents
- Doesn’t require the family relationship to have been formed ‘pre-flight’ so allows for relationships that developed after the family fled their home
- Doesn’t require transport costs to be paid
- Routes for separated children who have claimed asylum in an EU country are more easily accessible under the Dublin System than under the similar part of the immigration rules, paragraph 319X. This includes:
• No application fee under the Dublin System, compared to £388 through the immigration rules
• Stricter requirements for relatives to show they can financially support and accommodate any child without further recourse to public funds under 319X
• Under 319X, the application has to show there are “serious and compelling family or other considerations which make exclusion of the child undesirable.”
- The additional restrictions of paragraph 319X means it is often not a realistic option for many separated children. This would potentially leave family members in Europe, including separated children, without a safe and legal way to reach their loved ones here.
Draft agreement on the transfer of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children
- We welcome the publication of the draft agreement to propose the transfer of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children between Member States and the UK. Whilst it is clear the agreement is at very early stages and many parts are incomplete there are some clear concerns that need addressing;
The narrow scope of the draft agreement; there is no provision for children who have arrived unaccompanied and been recognised as refugees to sponsor and be reunited with their family members
It does not impose a requirement on Member States to request a transfer of an unaccompanied child but rather implies it is discretionary
It does not provide the applicant with appeal rights or alternative options for requesting a reconsideration
The draft agreement does not include to the detailed assessment of ‘the best interest of children’ 
- Given the early stages of the draft agreement we recommend the UK government mitigates against these concerns by amending the draft agreement to:
Change the wording to ‘shall’ instead of ‘may’ in Article 4.1 & 6.1 in the draft agreement to impose an obligation on states to reunite unaccompanied children
Include provisions to allow unaccompanied children to sponsor their close family members
Detail what factors must be considered when deciding the best interest of the children
Allow for a reconsideration of a decision to safeguard against the continued separation of children
- At the end of the transition period the UK will no longer be a part of Dublin III regulations. This Dublin System is an increasingly important route for family reunion and allows families to be reunited across Europe that would not be able to under the current domestic legislation. Without an agreement with the EU that replicates the Dublin System for all family members, many people including children will be left separated from their family and this may leave them without a safe route to reunite with their loved ones in the UK.
- The British Red Cross recommends prioritising the negotiation with the European Union, or with key Member States, of an agreement that allows individuals who have claimed asylum to be reunited with family members in the same way they are able to under the regulation. This should apply to adults and children.
- If no agreement can be reached within time, the British Red Cross recommends working with the European Union to allow the family reunion elements of the Dublin III Regulation to apply after the transition period until such an agreement is in place. This will safeguard against separated families.
- Equally, the UK government should prioritise amending the domestic immigration rules to mirror the family reunion elements and address the gaps identified above to prevent the gap of families that will continue to be separated after the end of the transition period.
- Under the Dublin System currently the applicant must submit an asylum claim and request their transfer to the UK based on a family connection. The obligation is on the sending Member State to submit the ‘take charge’ request. Since the pandemic and the severe lockdown across Europe many asylum systems are not fully operational and may be running a backlog. It is important that those family’s rights are protected by ensuring Members States submit those requests before the end of the transition period.