REFUGEES seeking safety in Britain should be afforded legal aid when applying to have their families relocated to the UK, a Newport MP has said.
Although refugees in the UK are able to apply to the Home Office for their spouse or partner and children aged younger than 18 to be allowed to join them, as of 2013 they have been ineligible for legal aid to assist with the application. Although the applications themselves are free, in many cases they require legal documents, which the refugee will have to pay for themselves.
And, speaking in Parliament during a debate on the issue last week, Newport West MP Ruth Jones said she did not agree with the government’s justification that the applications are “straightforward and easy to prepare”.
“In reality, they are far from straightforward,” she said. “They are difficult for any refugee to deal with, especially in a language they are not familiar with.
“Legal aid for these applications is available in Scotland and Northern Ireland and, in the interests of fairness, I argue that it should be reinstated in England and Wales.”
And she praised the work of The Sanctuary, which helps support refugees arriving in Newport integrate into their new home.
“In Newport West we have a diverse mix of people from all across the globe, and we have always welcomed the stranger,” she said. “However, refugees who arrive in Newport are often disoriented and need help to navigate their way through bureaucratic processes and the practical business of settling down in a foreign land.
“We are fortunate to have an organisation called The Sanctuary, which provides a welcome and support for refugees in Newport.
“The project grew out of a desire to support a few Eritrean women who started attending Bethel Community Church in the centre of the city, but it now has its own property and staff, who provide a fantastic service to refugees and asylum seekers across Newport.”
She added: “It is important to remember that refugees do not willingly give up their home and community to move to another country.
“They have been forced to flee, whether by war, violence or persecution, and have had to leave all familiar people and places and deal with a completely new life, learn a new language and set up a new home.
“We need to understand how dislocated and alone they must be feeling, and we should do everything we can to welcome them and help them settle.”
Responding to the debate, immigration minister Caroline Nokes said the issues surrounding support for refugees and asylum seekers were raised would be taken into account when considering the government’s approach to the issue.