The British government should spend more on legal aid to help migrants successfully apply for asylum in the UK, a Labour MP has suggested.
Writing for The Times, Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire said that the government “needs to review the legal aid cuts” which she said had left the asylum system “creaking at the seams”.
Such changes would help women and children first and foremost, she suggested.
“Most refugees do not arrive with all their relatives but, once they are here, it is understandable that they want to be reunited with their families,” Debbonaire wrote.
She argued that the current system did not sufficiently allow for families to be reunited as it may be culturally insensitive to alternate definitions of family.
“If you are fleeing a war, torture and conflict, you are highly likely to have been separated from your parents or children. You may have been cared for by an aunt or older sibling, and may have a wider understanding of ‘family’ than the nuclear family of Western social policy. Or your children may have reached the age of 18 by the time your status is confirmed, so would be ineligible for family reunion according to the rules.”
She continued: “The result of our failure to make sure that asylum seekers are represented is that refugees and UK citizens struggle to be reunited with their family members. Given what is at stake for families, there really should be legal aid provision for assisting refugees to make family reunion applications.”
Efforts should also be made to reunite more child migrants with their family in Britain, Debbonaire suggested.
Currently the Dublin Regulation rules on the settling of refugees within the European Union (EU) allows for children seeking asylum to be transferred to other EU member states if they have family there. But Debbonaire said that this arrangement “just moves children around the EU and places more burdens on the states which receive most refugees”.
Consequently, she argued that British rules should be changed so that child migrants can bring their families to the UK.
“The government should grant unaccompanied child refugees the right to sponsor their family members to join them in the UK, as recommended by the Refugee Council, British Red Cross and Amnesty International,” she wrote.
“It is also vital that the definition of family is expanded to include a wider range of relatives, to make sure that our rules match the realities of people living in different countries and, most importantly, in war zones.”
Debbonaire said the burden on the state would not be very large, due to the small numbers of children involved. Since September, 767 children granted family reunion visas have arrived in the UK having had assistance from the British Red Cross.
However, public sympathy for child migrants was heavily eroded in October when it emerged that many of the so-called child refugees accepted from Calais were actually adults in their twenties and possibly thirties, who may not have had any real familial links to the UK.
Debbonaire’s pleas also come as London boroughs appeal to the government for an extra £70 million in funding to cover the costs of rehoming 150 underage migrants from the Calais Jungle camp.