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Unicef UK & Save the Children: Brexit risks leaving refugee children stranded from family

Unicef UK and Save the Children warn that unaccompanied refugee children are at risk of losing their legal route to be reunited with their family in the UK, as negotiations to leave the EU begin.

Right now unaccompanied children stranded in Europe are reliant on, and have the legal right under, EU rules to be legally and safely reunited with a family member in the UK, but these will cease to be effective as Britain leaves the EU. This agreement – known as Dublin III – has been the main route for children to be reunited with a family member in the UK.

Instead, unaccompanied children will be reliant on the UK’s own Immigration Rules, but these currently only allow for children to be reunited with their parents, unlike Dublin III which includes close family members; adult siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Unicef UK and Save the Children are calling on the UK Government to adapt its own Immigration Rules to ensure children living in conflict-affected regions can continue to be reunited with their families safely and legally. By modifying these UK rules, vulnerable unaccompanied children fleeing danger can continue to be reunited with the same wider family members currently available through Dublin III.

Last year, over 700 unaccompanied children used Dublin III to be reunited with their family in the UK. With the so-called Dubs scheme terminated, for children trying to reach close family in the UK, Dublin III is the only remaining safe and legal route from Europe.

Lily Caprani, Deputy Executive Director at Unicef UK, said, “The UK has frequently committed to stopping the need for dangerous journeys, but when the UK leaves Europe, these children risk being left in the hands of traffickers and smugglers. No one wants this to happen, but unless fixed this will be a tragedy for some of the most vulnerable children in the world.

“The UK Government must use Brexit as an opportunity to show its leadership in helping refugee children, by adapting our Immigration Rules so that they can continue to reunite with close family members in the UK.”

George Graham, Director of Conflict & Humanitarian Policy, Advocacy & Campaigns at Save the Children, said, “Leaving the EU presents an opportunity to ensure that lone children who are fleeing wars and persecution can be reunited with their families without risking their lives on the dangerous journey to Europe.

By expanding the law around family reunion, the Government can ensure that safe and legal routes are available to those children who have family in the UK, keeping them out of the hands of traffickers and people smugglers.”

Nabil, 17, is one child who could have been helped by this process. After bombing destroyed his home in Syria, Nabil fled to Lebanon but several of his family had been killed and those who were alive were scattered far and wide, including his older brother living in Scotland. Boarding a plane to join his brother, however, was not an option for Nabil as the UK Immigration Rules do not allow sibling family reunion. Instead, he made his way alone by land and sea to France, nearly drowning when his boat capsized in the Aegean Sea, enduring six months in the Calais Jungle before being allowed to be reunited with his brother under Dublin III. This need not have been the case if UK Immigration Rules applied to extended family.

Notes to Editors

In 2016, more than 25,800 unaccompanied children put their lives in the hands of smugglers to reach Italy. Children made up 16 per cent of the arrivals in Italy but 94 per cent of them were unaccompanied and separated.

Last year 4,579 people died making the sea crossing to Italy and it is estimated that at least 700 children were among the dead. It is among the deadliest migration routes in the world for children.

With regard to the UK Immigration Rules, there have been some exceptional applications granted for family reunion with extended family members. In 2011, there were a total of 77 such applications but by 2014 the total had fallen to just 12.

In 2013 – 15, the period over which the global refugee crisis has grown dramatically, only 65 applications have been granted outside the rules.

Therefore, although applications for family reunion with a wider set of family members are occasionally being granted, the low numbers show that this discretion is rarely used in comparison to the number of cases put forward. By widening its Immigration Rules to use a broader definition of family, the UK Government can explicitly demonstrate its commitment to these vulnerable unaccompanied refugee children.

The Dublin III Regulation provides for unaccompanied children seeking asylum in one EU Member State to be transferred to another where they have family members in that country.

For more information:

Unicef UK Press Office, media@unicef.org.uk, + 44 (0)207 375 6030

About Unicef

Unicef is the world’s leading organisation for children, promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

Unicef UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children. As a registered charity we raise funds through donations from individuals, organisations and companies and we lobby and campaign to keep children safe. Unicef UK also runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities in the UK. For more information please visit unicef.org.uk

About Save the Children

Save the Children believes every child deserves a future. In the UK and around the world, we give children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We do whatever it takes for children – every day and in times of crisis – transforming their lives and the future we share.

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