CRSC: This week: UK Parliament votes to drop protections for child refugees after Brexit

This week we focus on Monday’s (19th October 2020) government vote against attempts to enshrine the legal right to family reunion for child refugees in UK law after the country’s departure from the EU on the 1stJanuary 2021. 

What is ‘family reunion’?

Until the UK’s withdrawal from the EU in January this year, the country was one of 25 EU Member States which guarantee the right to family reunification. This means that any individual in the UK has been able to bring their spouse, minor children and any of their spouse’s children to the UK with them, regardless of when these relationships were established or of when the first individual arrived in the country. Under this rule, many children have been granted safe passage into the UK for years, avoiding having to travel via dangerous routes. 

From January, the loss and the dangers that this vote will inflict upon families in the near future will be immeasurable. Three weeks ago (2ndOctober), the Government announced that the UK was ‘open and fully committed to family reunification’. On Monday evening, the Government voted against efforts to protect it. 

What might happen?

The alternatives to safe passage are perilous. It is reported that around 10,000 young people have entered the UK using alternative passages in the last ten years. Over the same time, only 1,000 have arrived with government support. In the absence of any rights enshrined in law, it may only become harder for young people to make these journeys. Instead, many will be unable to leave dangerous conditions in refugee camps such as the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, which was recently destroyed by fires, or the former ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais, which was destroyed in 2016. Many will remain separated from those they love most, such as their parents, siblings, and family members. Many will become homeless and left to suffer.

What does this mean for higher education?

The barriers that refugee students face when it comes to higher education are many. From linguistic to bureaucratic obstacles and financial to legal barriers, there are many reasons why it is incredibly difficult to access higher education as a refugee. The potential end to a right to family reunification automatically removes a legal basis for thousands of young people to travel to the UK and eventually study there. Whilst certain legal routes to higher education continue to exist, Monday’s vote is an example of an ever-narrowing gap of opportunity for these students, and an ever-increasing number of barriers to study at UK universities. Those who cannot visit the country may not be able to learn English, a skill required throughout the UK education system. They may not be able to attain the necessary qualifications for a successful application, or even have any access to information surrounding higher education. The new obstacles presented by this news are too many to mention, but it is clear that the loss of family reunification will have severe implications for access to higher education.

Some links– Details on the EU directive– An article from The Guardian on the implications of this story– A recent release from the Government on family reunification