Unaccompanied child refugees must be allowed to be reunited with their families, activists urged the UK government on Wednesday.
A group of students from Oaklands School in east London accompanied a group of refugees and human rights workers walking to the Home Office on Wednesday to hand over a 75,000-strong petition demanding child refugees in the UK be permitted to live with their families.
The law currently allows adult refugees in the United Kingdom to sponsor their families to join them here, but children do not have that right.
The “cruel and restrictive rules” needed to be removed and that child refugees needed to be made a “priority”, said Tom Davies, campaign manager at Amnesty International UK.
“Here in the UK, there are many vulnerable children who need to be with their families and being separated from them is not a good thing and the government is doing that intentionally.”
Amnesty International said the petition asked the government to allow child refugees in the UK the right to sponsor their close family – an expansion on who qualifies as family – so that young people who have turned 18 and elderly parents can join their relatives. They also want funding to be allocated in legal aid for refugee family reunion cases.
The human rights group, in collaboration with 52 other refugee organisations, has campaigned on the issue of child refugees since 2017.
The march – organised by Families Together Coalition, of which Amnesty is a member – came after MPs voted against a Lords amendment to the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill that would have guaranteed refugee children could join relatives in the UK after Brexit.
Amnesty’s Davies revealed the horrors endured by some refugees, including a Sudanese teenager named Habib, who fled his country and sought refuge in the UK after being arrested over his father’s political campaigning.
He said he was tortured, and left for Libya on a boat where he claimed to have witnessed the murder of a baby by a smuggler.
“He was then on a boat to come to Europe and it sank and he saw people drown,” said Davies.
“Horrific, horrific experiences both in his home country and on his journey to the UK – and then to be separated from his loved ones because of these rules is beyond cruel.”
SNP MP Angus MacNeil, who marched with the students, told the PA news agency: “The pressure is on the government to make this change.
“In nearly all countries in Europe, children have the same rights of family reunion as adults do.
“Bizarrely the UK doesn’t do that, and its been resisting to – the Tory government has been resisting to give children the same rights and have their families with them. It’s not a big ask, actually,” he added.
“Unfortunately, the government isn’t going to take any action unless pressure is placed on them.”
MacNeil said former leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, and whip Rebecca Harris were of “no help” with his proposed legislation on the issue, but he hopes for “a change of heart, and that the right thing is done in the end”.