Politics

Unicef’s family reunion law campaign dealt Brexit blow

The children’s charity says many EU countries have more flexible rules to help protect kids in grave danger around the world - and MPs could fix the "dangerous gap" in the UK's laws now

A campaign to change Britain’s family refugee reunion law before Brexit has been dealt a blow after ministers ruled that any amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill must wait for negotiations in Brussels to finish.

Unicef have been calling for a new clause 53 of the bill to protect the unaccompanied children who are reunited with family in the UK through the Dublin III regulation. A total of 700 children were returned to loved ones in 2016.

The regulation protects children by ensuring safe passage to close family to flee war, violence or persecution but only affects the 28 European Union member states and is likely to be closed to the UK when it departs in March 2019.

The children’s charity launched a Michael Sheen-fronted campaign to call on Home Secretary Amber Rudd to close the loophole and received the support of 60,000 members of the public and 42 MPs, including Nicky Morgan, David Lammy and Lib Dems leader Vince Cable.

But despite the rallying cry, ministers have ruled that the matter cannot be settled through secondary legislation until negotiations on Brexit’s terms are complete during a House of Commons debate motioned by Tim Loughton MP on Tuesday.

Parliamentary under-secretary of state for exiting the European Union, Steve Baker, told the East Worthing and Shoreham MP: “We understand our moral responsibility to those in need of international protection, and that will not change as we leave the European Union. We value co-operation with our European partners on asylum and we want that co-operation to continue, but the way to ensure that is through the negotiations, not by making changes to the ill before we have been able to make progress on this matter.

“I am grateful to my honourable friend and those who support his new clause but, as he said, changes are required in immigration rules. I am grateful to him for his stating the probing nature of the new clause. I ask him to work with Ministers, whom I think he said he has now met, to deliver the right changes to the immigration rule.”

Today was an opportunity for the government to stand tall and do the right thing for some of the world’s most vulnerable children

Unicef UK argue that many EU countries have more flexible family reunion rules outside of Dublin III, meaning that there is no need to wait for a resolution to the talks and re-iterated the need for the issue to be dealt with in the upcoming Immigration White Paper.

The charity’s deputy executive director Lily Caprani said: “Today was an opportunity for the government to stand tall and do the right thing for some of the world’s most vulnerable children.

“The minister failed to do so and failed children facing danger all over the world who are seeking the safety of family in the UK. For as long as our rules don’t recognise aunts, uncles, adult siblings and grandparents as family, children will end up risking their lives, falling into traffickers’ hands and exploited in unimaginable ways.

“This is a simple change that could save lives. This dangerous gap in our rules must now be addressed in the Immigration White Paper.”

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