In January, the Government announced a range of new measures that will help child refugees in Europe come to the UK safely and much more quickly.
Crucially, they extended the cut-off date for children eligible for transfer under the Dubs amendment – a scheme that gives sanctuary in the UK to unaccompanied child refugees stranded in Europe. This is something we have long been calling for.
The UK has so far transferred around 200 children under the scheme, but progress in filling the remaining spaces stalled. This is because children were only eligible for this scheme if they arrived before March 2016 – yet the majority of lone children without a home arrived after this date. This meant that hundreds of children who would be better off in the UK were prevented from travelling here.
Until last month.
The Government announced that they will extend the cut-off date to January the 18th 2018. This will ensure many, many more lone children stranded in appalling conditions can reach the safety of the UK. This is very welcome progress, and is in no doubt due to tireless campaigning by the public, organisations that work with vulnerable child refugees, and Members of Parliament.
But there is still lots more to be done – and nowhere is this more apparent than supporting refugee children seeking to reunite with family members here in the UK. With Brexit looming, there are both risks and opportunities facing child refugees.
Risks for children post-Brexit
Once we leave the EU, the UK will no longer be a signatory to the Dublin III regulations – a key route for child refugees to reunite with family members in elsewhere in Europe.
There is a risk that children will have to rely solely on the UK’s far more restrictive Immigration Rules, which only allow them to reunite with their parents.
With no formal legal process in place, if a child has lost their parents but has older siblings or other relatives in the UK who could care for them they will have little hope of reuniting with them.
Instead, children will continue to congregate in Calais – taking desperate and dangerous steps to reach their families. The UK must commit to guaranteeing the same rights for children in Europe that currently exist under Dublin III post-Brexit.
Opportunities for children post-Brexit
The current discrepancy between the Dublin regulation, which allows reunion with wider family members and UK law which in most cases is restricted to parents alone, means children are often forced to make dangerous journeys to Europe once they realise they cannot find a safe and legal route to reunite with wider family members in the UK from outside the EU.
As the UK looks to clarify its Immigration Rules there is an opportunity to end this discrepancy through amending the rules to allow extended family members such as adult siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles who have refugee or humanitarian status to sponsor children in their family to join them in the UK. After years of conflict, many of these children have been orphaned or do not know where their parents are – but they may have grandparents, aunts, uncles, or adult brothers and sisters in the UK who can care for them.
This is such a simple way for our Government to help children and families fleeing persecution and conflict. Over the next few months we want to see real action to address the risks facing children and families who have already gone through unthinkable hardship, and ensure they are able to reach safety reunite with their family and begin to rebuild their lives.