Nationality and Borders Bill: Bishop of Durham supports amendments around family reunion

During a debate on amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill in its fourth day of the Committee stage, on 8th February 2022, the Bishop of Durham spoke in support of amendments targeted towards ensuring family reunion for migrants, particularly refugees and unaccompanied minors:

The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I specifically support Amendment 117, to which I have added my name, but I support all these amendments around family reunion. I declare my interests in the register around RAMP and Reset as before.

Acknowledging that when people are forcibly displaced they end up in different places, often having lost family members, UNHCR research has shown that families often set out together but become separated along the way. Reconnecting those families, or, where some family members are lost, reconnecting people with other relatives, really matters. In seeking protection, those seeking asylum want to do so alongside the family that they have. This is better for individuals—their well-being and their future prospects—and for the community as a whole. It is therefore also better for social integration.

In my conversations with refugees and people seeking asylum, the whereabouts and safety of family is generally the number one preoccupation that they raise. This concern overrides everything. When we speak about family, it is not purely spouses and children but aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces. Organisations working with refugees, such as Safe Passage, know from their work that, when people have no safe route to reach their families, they are more likely to risk their lives on dangerous journeys to reach loved ones. Many of these individuals are children and young people seeking to reunite, often with their closest surviving relatives.

No doubt the Minister will give us the numbers again of how many families have been reunited under it, but existing refugee family reunion is narrow in scope. The threshold to be met under paragraphs 297 and 319X of the Immigration Rules for an adult non-parent to reunite with a child is “serious and compelling circumstances”, which is extremely difficult to meet in practice.

I appreciate that we cannot offer protection to all extended family members, but we can do this for some out of kindness, and it would divert them from using criminal gangs. Once they arrived in the UK, they would enter the asylum system to have their claim for protection decided.

Of course, we would prefer people not to have to make the dangerous journeys as far as Europe, and I expect that the Minister will cite pull factors to Europe as a rebuttal. With an ambitious resettlement scheme—which we will come back to—a broader definition for family reunion, as well as an increasing commitment to aid and constructive engagement with our near neighbours, I believe that any such pull factor to one safe route will be mitigated. The alternative is that people come anyway but in an unplanned way, risking their lives and causing further trauma.

I urge the Minister to at last give way on one item: consider this proposal as a pragmatic response to the need to find durable solutions for desperate people dying on our borders in order to reach their family.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Baroness Hamwee (LD): My Lords, I have been encouraged to say a word—it was only going to be a word, but it will be a few more now—in support of my noble friend Lady Ludford. I am pleased that she has taken on this cause. I am not seeking to analyse every one of these amendments, but they are about protection in every sense of the word, which is what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham was saying. I applaud the Government for enabling the reuniting of some families, but I am thinking about those who have not been reunited, where there are problems.

The Lord Bishop of Durham: I will try to edit my speech as I go. I support Amendment 118, to which I was pleased to add my name. We all agree that we do not want unsafe journeys, and there is no silver bullet: the situation is complex. If a deterrent was really the answer, securitising the Eurotunnel and the ferry ports has not worked; it has just created even more dangerous routes. So we must have more safe and legal routes.

The major reason I support the idea of a humanitarian visa is that it is a further safe and legal route. It also addresses the issue of people coming from the countries where there are smaller numbers who face persecution and so on, for whom bespoke schemes are never going to be created. Last year, only 93 people arrived from Iraq, five from Yemen, none from Iran and 36 from Sudan. That is all those who were resettled last year. The focus became so heavy last year on Afghanistan and Hong Kong, through the BNO scheme, that all other refugees appeared to be forgotten, so we need this kind of visa. I hope the Minister will not pick holes in the way the amendment is worded because the point is that this kind of visa needs to be looked at.

I also speak in favour of Amendment 116—it is very nice to speak with the noble Lord, Lord Horam, on one occasion. During the Syrian crisis of 2015, a target was set of 20,000 and it helped galvanise everybody with a vision of what could be done. It helped local authorities to understand what kind of numbers they might expect and so on. We also saw through that process the creation of the community sponsorship scheme, so we came up with a new thing through a targeted number. Ten thousand is a number widely supported, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, noted, by huge numbers of refugee organisations because the UNHCR has identified that it is, roughly speaking, our fair share across the world. It is not a number plucked out of thin air but from looking at our fair share across the globe. I hope that we will hear positively the idea that it can happily include the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. I shall stop there because we need to keep moving.


The Lord Bishop of Durham: At Second Reading, we were encouraged to come forward with proposals for new routes and so on. We have done so. It is not good enough for the Government to say that we need more safe and legal routes, and then knock down every idea that we present and not present alternatives themselves. Will the Minister undertake to give us some examples on Report of safe and legal routes that the Government will support? She knows what we will do otherwise.

Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con): What I encouraged noble Lords to come up with at Second Reading were solutions, not new routes. I have consistently said, and written to noble Lords on this, that we have a number of very good safe and legal routes.


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