Michael Sheen leads calls for post-Brexit family reunion law plan

The Hollywood star wants Home Secretary Amber Rudd to act on Unicef petition calling for reform on laws allowing child refugees to reach close family

Hollywood actor Michael Sheen has backed Unicef’s call for Home Secretary Amber Rudd to change Britain’s family refugee reunion law before Brexit kicks in.

The Dublin III regulation that protects children by ensuring that they are provided a safe passage to close family when moving country to flee war, violence or persecution. Last year, the process saw 700 unaccompanied children reunited with family in the UK.

But the law only refers to the 28 European Union member states and is likely to close, according to David Davis MP, when the UK’s departure is confirmed at the end of March next year.

By recognising what our close family really is and reflecting that in the Home Office’s rules, a child could be brought to safety faster and without the need for these deadly journeys

The Brexit secretary insisted that, “We are a country with a strong tradition of tolerance and generosity, and if anything, I expect that to grow after we leave, not diminish” when quizzed on the future of the process by MPs earlier this month.

With limited time for Rudd to make amendments to the UK’s own laws before Article 50 is triggered, the children’s humanitarian charity has launched a petition to ask the Conservative MP to ensure that they are fit for purpose.

More than 16,000 people have already signed the petition, but Frost/Nixon star Sheen is now calling on the government to do more to protect children from dangerous journeys to reach the safety of loved ones without threat of falling into the hands of smugglers and traffickers.

The campaign has already caught the attention of former Tory Ministers Nicky Morgan and Tim Loughton who have actually tabled an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill calling for the UK’s laws to address the discrepancy with Dublin III.

They have been joined by 22 MPs from across the political spectrum who have added their name to the list ahead of the committee stage, which is set to be reached next month.

The Unicef UK ambassador said: “Our government can fix the rules so that it is no longer necessary for those children with close family in the UK to journey into Europe before being allowed to reach the protection and love that is waiting for them.

“By recognising what our close family really is and reflecting that in the Home Office’s rules, a child could be brought to safety faster and without the need for these deadly journeys.”

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A new paper published by the charity found that a child fleeing danger is exploited by criminal gangs every 30 minutes while on their way to Europe.

The current UK system does not recognise uncles, aunts, grandparents or even adult siblings as family, meaning children fleeing war, violence and persecution can apply from where they are living to join only their parents.

As a result, children with no parents able to care for them in the UK, must face danger and even death trying to reach Europe where, under EU law, they can apply to join close family members.

And that has hastened the need for a safe and legal route to be preserved in the wake of Brexit.

Unicef UK has found that every thirty minutes a child fleeing danger is exploited by criminal gangs on their way to Europe.

Lily Caprani, Unicef UK deputy executive director, said: “We have seen what the UK’s leadership and compassion can do for the world’s most vulnerable children. Last year 700 unaccompanied children used the Dublin process to be reunited with family in the UK – the majority of whom joined close family but not parents.

“It is this route and lifeline that refugee children could lose in the face of Brexit, unless the government acts now. Not doing so will let the traffickers and smugglers win. This simple change to our rules does not need protracted negotiation with the European Union. Doing it could give children their childhoods back.”

The Unicef petition can be signed here.