Letter from dozens of MPs calls on home secretary to pass bill pending for a year into law
Nearly 70 MPs have written to the home secretary, Sajid Javid, urging him to act over proposed legislation that would relax restrictive rules for reuniting refugees with their families.
Current immigration rules only allow adult refugees to apply for their married or civil partners and dependent children under 18 to join them. They are unable to submit applications for their parents, grandparents, siblings or children over 18.
Children who are in the UK alone and have refugee status do not have the right to be reunited with even their closest family members.
The refugee family reunion bill, a private member’s bill put forward by the SNP MP Angus MacNeil, seeks to broaden the definition of a family member.
The proposed legislation received overwhelming backing at its second reading in the Commons a year ago, but the passing of the bill has since stalled and under parliamentary rules that govern private members’ bills, time is running out to pass it into law.
Nearly 70 MPs, including the Conservative chair of the justice committee, Bob Neill, have written to Javid, calling on him to prevent further delays.
The letter reads: “Almost a year ago, MPs from across the political spectrum united behind a common cause as they overwhelmingly voted to introduce a law that would help reunite refugee families.
“The current rules condemn child refugees fleeing conflict and persecution to live in the UK without their parents. It also prevents parents from bringing their children over the age of 18. At a time when refugees need their families the most, they are being forced to be without them indefinitely.
“They say a week is a long time in politics, but a year is a long time to wait. For refugee families it means a year of missed birthdays, Christmases, Mother’s Days, Father’s Days and Eids.
“We cannot let the urgent crowd out the important. We urge you to use your power to stop the delays on this bill and allow it the necessary time to proceed and be debated. With your help we can bring families together.”
Campaigners say the government has deliberately delayed the passing of a money resolution, a requirement if a new bill proposes spending public funds on something not previously authorised by an act of parliament.
Money resolutions are normally put to the Commons for agreement immediately after the bill has passed its second reading, but this has not happened.
MacNeil’s bill would broaden the definition of a family member to include parents and adoptive parents, and children and siblings who are under 18, or who are under 25 but were under 18 when the person granted asylum left the country of their habitual residence.
MPs, charities and campaigners have said the changes could also be brought in through the government’s post-Brexit immigration bill.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are following the passage of the private member’s bill closely and will continue our productive discussions with partners on this complex and sensitive issue.
“We have always been clear that we support the principle of family unity and have reunited over 26,000 family members in the last five years. However, we also believe that we must not create perverse incentives for people, particularly children, to leave their families and risk dangerous journeys hoping relatives can join them later.”