Big Story 10

Britain to debate letting more refugees' children reunite with families

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Designer Vivienne Westwood and artist Anish Kapoor are among the celebrities backing proposed legal changes that would allow refugees’ dependent children aged 18 to 25 to join their parents in Britain.

Parliament is scheduled to debate the bill on Friday.

“You don’t stop being someone’s child once you reach the age of 18, and there could be some very vulnerable children being left behind in a conflict situation or in a refugee camp,” said Laura Padoan, a spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.

The Families Together campaign is run by organizations including UNHCR, the British Red Cross and the Refugee Council.

At present a refugee granted asylum can apply to have their partner or children join them in Britain if they were separated when forced to leave their home country.

However, children must be under 18, which is why dependent children older than that cannot legally enter Britain.

Anna Musgrave of the Refugee Council said having families separated from older children created terrible dilemmas.

“People become desperate and feel compelled to travel with people-smugglers, because there is no regular route available to them,” Musgrave told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Angus MacNeil of the Scottish National Party, who will present the Refugees Family Reunion Bill, said Britain’s “regressive” immigration laws were punishing children.

“This bill goes beyond party politics – it is a simple question of humanity, compassion, and the UK living up to its responsibilities on the international stage in dealing with the refugee crisis,” he said in a statement.

If it becomes law, the bill would also let refugee families use a taxpayer-funded legal advice service to help them bring family members to Britain.

The United Nations said the world is witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record, with more than 65 million people forced to flee their homes, surpassing numbers after the Second World War.

Refugees made up 0.2 percent of the British population in 2015 - numbering 123,000 - according to the U.N.