Family matters to everyone - we must improve the family reunion system in the UK

The Art of Connection   Hannah Rose Thomas
Artwork by Hannah Rose Thomas

Our Chief Executive, Sabir Zazai joined colleagues from Oxfam Scotland and the British Red Cross at the SNP's conference in Glasgow yesterday. We were there to support Angus MacNeil MP's Refugee Family Reunion Bill, which would make a huge difference to the lives of many families in Scotland.  

It takes a brave country to open its doors to people at a time when we have our own social and economic challenges. As a newcomer to Scotland it is inspiring for me to observe this positive mode. It is and should be a source of pride as it maintains Scotland’s genuinely proud record of refugee protection and welcome over the generations, as exemplified by Glasgow’s welcome to refugees from across the globe since 2000 as well as Scotland’s reception of Syrian families more recently.

All of these arrivals  have enriched us in many ways. People we have worked with at Scottish Refugee Council over the years are now our neighbours, friends and colleagues and they contribute at many levels as nurses, teachers and taxi drivers and more.

Refugee protection is not a new subject for Scotland but it is one that is a source of unique pride to the nation. To safeguard this tradition, it is important to listen to those calling Scotland their adopted home. And some of the key learning that we and our New Scots partners have identified is pivotal to ensuring Scotland maintains its ‘vanguard’ role within the UK.

We are at a point in time in Europe and, especially in the UK, of borders and exclusion with a very real risk that Brexit may extend and deepen the UK government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy to many migrants and including many people seeking, refused or even granted refugee protection. And, as we are seeing, this ‘hostile environment’ is moving towards EU citizens, endangering their rights, lives and enrichment of our society. So, it has never been more important than today and in the coming years that Scotland maintains its commitment to being a beacon for inclusion for all migrants including refugees.

We know that family matters to all of us and that the current UK refugee protection system doesn’t take the right to family life seriously enough.  We know from our extensive work with refugees over many years that family reunion is a huge issue: it comes up through our refugee integration service, in our training with communities, the public sector and charities; and in our community development work across the country.

The current restrictive rules are so adverse in terms of the mental anguish of separation and the fear of the loss of loved ones. The stakes are so high for families separated by war and terrorism. I call to the SNP and Scotland to continue to be at the vanguard of refugee protection and to be a beacon to those who need our protection.

Find out more about the bill and the urgent need to reform the refugee family reunion system.

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