Friday, March 31, 2017

We call for joined up government on child family reunion

STAR (Student Action for Refugees) and Amnesty have joined two government departments with colourful paper chains in an ongoing campaign to allow child refugees to be reunited with their families.

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As part of the action a 31,000 strong petition was also delivered to the Home Office and the Department for Education (30th March 2017).

STAR members, including those from Southampton, Reading and Anglia Ruskin universities, helped link the government buildings with the giant paper chains stretching a full 240 metres.

These featured cut-out figures of adults and children and were made by STAR groups and Amnesty activists up and down the country.

The aim was to highlight how at the moment adult refugees in the UK are entitled to apply to have their immediate family members join them. Yet this is not the case for children.

The UK and Denmark are the only European countries which deny child refugees this right. This leaves these children facing a stark choice – they must either return to danger to be with their families or live as orphans in the UK.

Actress, Juliet Stevenson, Nick ‘Peanut’ Baines of the Kaiser Chiefs and Thangam Debbonaire MP, were on hand to deliver the petition.

They were joined by Director of STAR, Emma Williams, who commented: “being reunited with close family is the best way to safeguard child refugees in the UK. This improves their chances of recovery, integration and personal development.”

Stevenson – star of Bend it Like Beckham and Truly Madly Deeply – echoed that point.

“For the children who actually manage to get here, their problems do not end when they arrive. For some of them their problems get worse – the loneliness, the isolation, the mental health issues and their lack of opportunity to integrate.

“So to unite them with at least one or more family members makes sense on every level. If we allow it for adult refugees why on earth would we not allow it for children?” she said.

A joint strategy by the Home Office and Education Department on the safeguarding of unaccompanied chid refugees is due to be published in early May.

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Ash Li is a member of STAR at Anglia Ruskin University. Speaking outside the Home Office she said she had “wanted to come down and do something tangible to make a difference and also raise awareness of this issue.

“Obviously holding up 240 metres worth of family paper chains does garner some attention and raises much needed awareness of a really important issue.”

Michael Turner, also from Anglia Ruskin, added: “I wanted to do something, to physically be able to come down here and show our support on this issue. That’s really important.”

The paper chains were made during STAR and Amnesty’s Action Week in February under the slogan #ReuniteRefugeeFamilies.

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Action Week also saw the I Welcome photo exhibition at a number of university campuses, with students and activists writing letters to the Home Office and Department of Education asking for family reunion.

Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire MP – chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Refugees – also said child refugees should be treated in the same way as others granted the same status.

“It’s an anomaly that children can’t bring a parent. It’s also costly for us as a country in that these children then have to be taken into care. It also has a knock-on effect because it is hard enough getting care places for children who are already here.

“So it makes no sense to me that we don’t allow children to be able to apply for refugee reunion in the way that other refugees can.”

Debbonaire, who described the paper chains and petition as “absolutely fantastic”, said “STAR and Amnesty have worked so hard to raise the profile of this issue. All we need is for the Home Office and the Department for Education to talk to each other.

“My understanding is that the Department for Education would really quite like to change this – they don’t really want children in care who don’t need to be in care. But the Home Office has a different perspective.

“We are talking about parents – we are not talking about hundreds of people. It’s a small number and it will help everybody”, she added.

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Legislation is not required in order to make the change called for by STAR. This was a point emphasised by Steve Valdez-Symonds, Director of Amnesty’s Refugee and Migrants Programme.

He said: “If you are recognised as a refugee in the UK you are immediately in a position where if you can locate your nearest and dearest you can sponsor them to join you – except if you are a child.

“Just change the policy. It’s a matter of the immigration rules, the Home Secretary could do it tomorrow.”

Our action was also covered in the media by Huck magazine, TimeOut, iNews and The Guardian

Posted by STAR team on 31/03/2017 at 01:52 PM