Families seeking asylum face Catch 22 situation in their attempts to stay together

The UK Border Agency is violating its own obligations to put the best interests of children first when dealing with families who have been split up while seeking asylum, according to a report released today (Thursday, 14 October).

The Scottish Refugee Council research, Maintaining Family Unity throughout the Asylum Support System in Policy and Practice, tells how asylum-seeking families who do not arrive in the UK together are being forced to choose between making themselves destitute in order to stay with their children, or to live apart but receive support. It also shows how unnecessary costs are being incurred by the UK Border Agency in enforcing these rules.

UK Border Agency regulations state asylum seekers who are not married, or have not brought their marriage certificate to the UK with them, must prove that they have been cohabiting for two out of the last three years if they want to live and receive support as a family unit. Yet this can be very difficult for those who have been separated whilst attempting to flee war, conflict or persecution.

Simon Hodgson, Scottish Refugee Council’s Director of Policy, said: “Families who have been split up through no fault of their own while escaping their countries of origin are doubly punished when they arrive in the UK.

“This Catch 22 situation is not only extremely distressing for families, but also contravenes their human right to a family life. It punishes children by preventing them from living with both parents, which is a violation of UK Border Agency’s obligation to put the best interests of the child first.  

“The Government has publicly recognised that detaining children is wrong. They must also look to rectify the other ways in which children in the asylum system suffer and address this issue.”

Contact Clare Harris or Karin Goodwin, Scottish Refugee Council media officers on 0141 223 7927/07734 030 763 or media@scottishrefugeecouncil.org.uk


Notes to editors

  1. Under current UK Border Agency regulations the existence of children – even two or more – is not accepted as evidence of a stable relationship.  Families who arrive together are not required to show proof of their relationship. A UK couple may claim housing and benefits as a family unit regardless of the length of their relationship.
  2. Scottish Refugee Council caseworkers have repeatedly highlighted that staying together as a family is one of the most difficult issues people face. Each month the charity deals with 12-14 cases of families struggling to stay together due to strict UK Border Agency regulations.
  3. As well as those who have been split up while in the process of fleeing their home countries, those who have met their partner in the UK, as well those in ‘mixed status’ household, where only one partner has so far been granted refugee status, are affected.
  4. Scottish Refugee Council is calling for a variety of measures to redress the situation including the existence of a common child to be taken as proof of a relationship if the father’s name appears on the birth certificate. Instead of a minimum period of cohabitation, Department of Work and Pensions guidance on assessing the stability of a relationship should be adapted.
  5. Read the full research paper – Maintaining Family Unity throughout the Asylum Support System – on our website: http://www.scottishrefugeecouncil.org.uk/policy_and_research/research_reports
  1. Scottish Refugee Council is an independent charity dedicated to providing advice and information to people seeking asylum and refugees living in Scotland.


Case study:

A Chinese man spends the day with his partner and their three-year old child who are supported under Section 95. However, the father has to leave the flat at night and find accommodation at a friend’s place as he is not authorised to live with his family. 

Even though the couple have been in a relationship since 2005 and have a child, the wife’s request to add her partner as a dependant on her asylum support was turned down.

The refusal was based on their failure to provide evidence demonstrating that they have been living together for the past two years. The couple appealed against the decision stating that they “wish to live together as a family as is our right”. The appeal has been dismissed and the father continues to leave the family’s home at night.