If someone asked you to imagine a scenario in which you were apart from your family and couldn’t be sure that you would ever be near them again, what would that feel like to you? How would it impact on your day to day life? How would it affect your hopes, or your sense of where you are from or who you really are?
Maybe for some people that scenario sounds wonderful. They can think of nothing better than being as far away from their family as possible. Perhaps they would say that the most important family you will have isn’t the one you were born into, but the one you got to choose—the friends you meet at school, college or work; the people you get to know on your street, or those you meet at parties or at your running club, or choir, or book group.
But I suspect that, for most people, being near their family is what makes their lives truly happy and fulfilling. That knowing their partners, parents, siblings and children are within reach and a part of their life is actually essential for them being settled and feeling content.
This is certainly true of many people we work with at the Refugee Council. Every day we meet people who have fled unimaginably difficult situations—war, torture, persecution. As they begin the often slow and painful process of rebuilding their lives here in the UK, what is almost always at the front of their mind is not their dreadful experiences of flight and exile —as intense and recent as they may have been—it is always their family. It’s the first thing they want to talk to you about; it’s the topic they keep coming back to.
The reason for this is clear: when families are forced to flee for their lives they very often get torn apart in these desperate journeys, ending up in different countries and even continents. For those who arrive in the UK and claim asylum, they are confronted with wholly unfair UK rules that prevent refugees in the UK from being joined by their families.
We know that for refugees who have been through so much, rebuilding their lives and integrating in new unfamiliar communities is much more likely if their families are with them. Not only do people need to be with their loved ones but they are also plagued by the knowledge that by not being with them, their loved ones back home may well have become even more vulnerable.
The welcome news is that we can change this. Alongside many other organisations that work with refugees in the UK and abroad, we have helped Angus MacNeil MP to secure a debate in Parliament on 16th March that could change these unfair rules. We need at least 100 MPs to attend and vote to allow refugees in the UK to be joined by their families. You can help by making sure that your MP is one of them.
Of course, some restrictions will remain, but easing the stranglehold will help some of those forced to flee due to the global refugee crisis. They have lost their homes, been separated from their families and all that they know. We want them to have a chance to rebuild their lives so they can have safe, happy futures together.