THE COMPLEXITY OF REFUGEE FAMILY REUNION

Research Report Policy, Research and Advocacy August 2013

redcross.org.uk/refugee

Contents

Page

Contents……………………………..…………..……………..………....................................... 1 Acknowledgements and authoring…………………………………….......................... 2 Executive summary…………………………………………………………………………..... 3
Key findings…………………………………………………………………………..……................. Policy recommendations…………………………………………………………………….............. 3 4

Background……………………………………………………………………………………...... 5
Current policy position……………………………….………………………………………............. Current data………………………………….…………………………………………….................. OISC compliance……………...…………….……………………………………………….............. 6 7 7

This research…………………………………………………………………………………....... 8
Methodology………………………………………………………………………………….............. 8 Profile of participants………......…………………………………………………………….............. Data collection aims……..……….…………………………………………………………............... Questionnaire findings………………….…………………………………………………................. Interview findings……………………………………………………………………………............... Case studies………………………………………………………………………………….............. English case vs. Scottish case………...……….…………………………………………................ 9 9 10 11 14 17

Analysis of the refugee family reunion form…………………………………………. 17 Models for future delivery………………………………………………………………….... 18
A business case……………………………………………………………………………................ 18

Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………………........ 19
Policy recommendations arising from this research…………….…………………......................... 20

Acknowledgements and authoring
We are grateful to: Matt Bass, Lillian Rose, Emma Renshaw, Fabio Appollonio, Rosanna Longley, Ben Stickley, Zeraslasie Shiker, Faye Goldsmith, Wiliam Nonge, Robert Karajic, Kerri Chana, Joseph Nibizi, Elizabeth Abbey, Catherine Stevenson, Andy Hewett, Olivia Field, Alexander de Châlus and Clare Tudor. This report would not have been possible without their assistance. The British Red Cross is also thankful to front line staff and volunteers who helped with distribution and completion of questionnaires, as well as those who helped facilitate qualitative interviews. Most of all, we are grateful to those who gave up their time to participate in completing the questionnaires, and to those who were willing to share their stories. Data collection, data analysis and authoring by Steven Law, Researcher, British Red Cross.

For further information, please contact: Steven Law SLaw@redcross.org.uk Olivia Field OField@redcross.org.uk

Executive summary
The 2012 Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act came into effect on 1 April 2013 and introduces significant changes to Legal Aid provision. The government has removed funding for entire areas of civil law, including private family law; personal injury and negligence cases; some employment and education law; some debt and housing and benefits issues, and immigration law. These changes mean that many people will have to pay privately for advice, seek support from charities that offer legal help, or represent themselves in civil disputes. The British Red Cross currently supports refugees in centres across 48 towns and cities in the United Kingdom. For refugees who wish to be reunited with their pre-flight family, we can provide basic advice and refer to solicitors, as well as providing travel assistance once a visa has been granted. The process for bringing pre-flight families to the UK is known as refugee family reunion and until April 1 2013, legal advice to facilitate this process was covered under Legal Aid in England and Wales. In February 2013, the British Red Cross commenced a short research project to explore the potential impact of the cuts to Legal Aid provision for refugee family reunion cases. This is a report of the findings from the research Sixty-nine questionnaires were completed in February and March 2013, and 14 follow up qualitative interviews were conducted in June and July 2013. > Key findings 1. Refugee family reunion is a complex process and support is essential The refugee family reunion form presents problems for applicants because it isn’t specific to refugee family reunion. It is difficult to find and must be completed online, in English, and in the third person. Without professional support for refugee family reunion, clients are struggling to even begin with an application. Friends are reluctant to help because they know that a single mistake will cause further delays. Those who received professional support said that without it, they would not have been able to complete an application. There are often issues which contribute to the complexity of cases such as adoption, destroyed or missing documents and the absence of a UK embassy in certain countries. These additional issues highlight the importance of a dedicated, Courageous knowledgeable and professional service to support refugee family reunion cases. 2. Clients have little chance of being able to fund a refugee family reunion application without support The overwhelming majority of clients applying for refugee family reunion have little money. In many cases, they have used what little savings they have to fund their journey to the UK. Once here, they are dependent on benefits and struggle to gain employment. Without access to funds, our clients are reliant on friends, churches or high interest loans to fund an application, and there is a very real risk of exploitation as a result.

Inclusive

3. Rejections and delays negatively affect refugees in a number of ways Refugees suffer from a range of mental health issues as a result of lengthy periods of time without their families. There are extremely high levels of stress and anxiety, and many suffer from periods of depression. Refugees become more desperate as time without their families goes on, leading to further deterioration in mental health. In many cases, there is an absence of motivation to gain employment and fully integrate into society. 4. Reunited families are more likely to contribute to UK society Families who get a positive decision on their refugee family reunion case become more motivated to secure employment and contribute to UK society. They are more likely to enroll in courses to improve language and employment skills and are more likely to apply for jobs. When their families arrive in the UK, the children are enrolled in schools and the spouse/partner is keen to develop skills. > Policy recommendations > The UK government should adopt a specific and simplified form for refugee family reunion. In addition to this, a set of clear guidance notes should be easily accessible. > The UK government should provide funding for more complicated refugee family reunion cases and appeals. > The British Red Cross, working with key partners, should explore the possibility of providing standard refugee family reunion work via new service models. > A ministerial roundtable meeting with the British Red Cross and UNHCR to discuss a realistic and sustainable approach for providing legal support for refugee family reunion cases. This should be convened with representatives from the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office

Background
The British Red Cross has a long tradition of providing practical and emotional support to vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers, as well as restoring contact between family members separated as a result of contemporary conflicts and disasters. Refugee family reunion work has long been a key activity of the British Red Cross. People who have been granted either Refugee Status or Humanitarian Protection are permitted to seek reunification with their pre-flight family. These rights are protected under UK law, the 1951 Refugee Convention and in the case of Humanitarian Protection, the European Convention on Human Rights. Refugees in the UK have been subject to considerable humanitarian suffering and their cases for remaining in the UK have been found to be justified. It is accepted that they cannot be expected to go back to their country of origin. Since 1 April 2013, their right to access Legal Aid to unite with family members who are often in equally precarious situations has been removed. In a recent paper, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) outlines nine areas of concern for refugee family reunion cases s. These are restrictions in time and scope of the refugee family reunion process, limited family definition, difficulties in tracing relatives, insufficient information about the procedure, difficulties accessing embassies to lodge an application, difficulties documenting family links and dependency, problems securing travel documents and visa from remote and insecure areas, financing travel and meeting integration requirements. Refugees in the UK have been subject to considerable humanitarian suffering and their cases for remaining in the UK have been found to be justified. Issues for the refugee Recent research has highlighted some of the issues faced by refugees who are applying for refugee family reunion from within the UK. A British Red Cross study from 20112 highlighted the complexity of the application procedure, particularly for those who lack: > support from family, friends or community > advanced English language skills > a formal education > an understanding of administrative processes

1

UNHCR (2012) Refugee Family Reunification: UNHCR’s response to the European Commission Green Paper on the Right to British Red Cross (2011) Family Reunion for Refugees in the UK: Understanding Support Needs

Family Reunification of Third Country Nationals Living in the European Union (Directive 2003/86/EC)
2

Representatives from external agencies and dedicated British Red Cross staff generally agree that individuals with refugee status require professional support for their refugee family reunion applications to be successful. This is supported by research carried out by the Scottish Refugee Council3 which highlights difficulties with the application form (which isn’t specific to refugee family reunion), a lack of professional support, and extensive delays as barriers to successful refugee family reunion cases. In addition to this, UNHCR has raised concerns about the lack of refugee integration into UK society during the application process. They said “Refugees have expressed that they may find it difficult to concentrate on establishing a new life in the host society, or learning a new language, if they are concerned about the well-being of a spouse, children or other family”4 Issues for the family In addition to the demonstrable issues faced by refugees who wish to bring their families to them, the families themselves face a number of obstacles during this process. To gain a visa, they must attend an embassy on a pre-determined appointment date. Where a refugee is still in his or her country, approaching a foreign embassy can pose a risk to their safety, and may require travelling long distances at great cost. The presentation of required documentation is often an issue as documents may have been lost or destroyed, and family members are unable to approach the authorities due to risk of persecution. If the country of origin doesn’t have an embassy, the family must travel to a neighbouring country. For example, because the British Embassy in Iran is currently closed, the families of Iranian refugees often have to fund travel to Turkey for their visa appointment. This can pose some risks to the safety of the family, and often has high cost implications. The decision and production of relevant documents can take up to two weeks, and during this time the family must fund accommodation while they wait. It is common that family members of refugees are refugees themselves and are residing outside their country of origin. This makes travelling to an embassy in a neighbouring country extremely difficult, if not impossible. > Current policy position Changes to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act mean that from 1st April 2013, refugee family reunion cases are no longer in scope for civil Legal Aid in England and Wales. Asylum cases remain in scope for legal aid, but refugee family reunion cases fall under immigration law and as a result, have been taken out of scope. This means that refugees who were previously entitled to Legal Aid for Family Reunion cases are now required to either pay privately for advice, seek support from charities that offer legal help, or represent themselves.

3

Scottish Refugee Council (2010) ‘One Day We Will Be Reunited’: Experiences of Refugee Family Reunion in the UK UNHCR (2012) Reunification of Third Country Nationals Living in the European Union (Directive 2003/86/EC)

Refugee Family Reunification: UNHCR’s response to the European Commission Green Paper on the Right to Family
4

> Current data The latest publicly available statistics on refugee family reunion were published in July 2011 and relate to 2010. The table below shows the asylum data from 2010 compared to the refugee family reunion data from the same period (decisions and outcomes may relate to some applications made in earlier years as well as the current year).
Applications 17,916 6,155 (2010) Decisions 20,261 7,055 Grants 5,195 4,885 Refusals 15,066 2,105

Asylum cases Refugee family reunion cases 6

5

The data shows that yearly grants for family reunion are similar to the amount of successful asylum cases, and the usefulness of this data extends to allowing us to get a sense of how many people may find themselves affected by this issue 7. > OISC compliance The Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC) is an independent, non-departmental public body set up under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. It ensures that advisors are fit and competent and act in the best interests of their clients 8. It has the ability to audit and visit regulated advisors, and to bring prosecutions for malpractice.
OISC level 1 Sufficient knowledge of immigration and asylum law Not permitted to conduct Refugee family reunion work OISC level 2 Detailed knowledge of immigration and asylum law Refugee family reunion casework, excluding appeals work OISC level 3 Detailed knowledge of immigration and asylum law Substantive appeals work, including representation at first-tier and upper tribunal

OISC level 1 training usually takes place over two days, and completion of the course requires success in a written assessment. According the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants 9, level 1 requires a person to be able to: > Diagnose a specific need for immigration advice, including recognising urgent situations. This requires specific knowledge of immigration and nationality law and procedure to be able to diagnose the need for specific immigration advice.

5 6 7

Home Office (2011) Family Migration: Evidence and Analysis Home Office (2013) Immigration Statistics: October to December 2012 The real value with this data will be in comparing refugee family reunion grants/refusals for cases before, and then after, cuts to

Legal Aid. The 2010 data shows that the success rate for applications was 69%. A significant drop in this figure for a period where Legal Aid is not available will help indicate the importance of professional legal support to this process.
8 9

OISC website http://oisc.homeoffice.gov.uk/ Joint Council for the Welfare if Immigrants (2013) Level 1 OISC training manual

>

Provide one off advice as opposed to sustained casework or preparation.

> Provide administrative support – this often requires good background knowledge of immigration and asylum law and practice. > Make basic applications for extensions of leave (or variations) > Make basic applications for entry clearance Much of this work relates to advice and assistance, and work on illegal entrants, overstayers, removal, deportation, detention, immigration judge bail, appeals and tribunals. Refugee family reunion work is not permitted for OISC level 1 advisors. To move to OISC level 2, a week long course which covers the key areas of immigration and asylum law must be completed, including a scenario based exam. In addition, a significant period of supervision from a level 2 caseworker is required. Once at level 2, immigration advisors are able to undertake casework for refugee family reunion, as well as more complex immigration rules applications, and applications outside of the immigration rules. In June 2011, the government responded to stakeholder’s concerns about legal aid cuts by saying the process was “generally straightforward 10. The training required to reach a competence level where advisors can begin to work on refugee family reunion cases (i.e. OISC level 2) would suggest that they are not.

This research
The withdrawal of legal support from a process which is already demonstrably complex has led to an upswing in British Red Cross clients requesting refugee family reunion work. In response, we planned a two stage research project which began in February 2013. The key aims of the research are to: > monitor the impact of legal aid cuts for refugees applying for family reunion > explore alternative service delivery models > inform future policy > Methodology We employed a mixed methods approach which included a questionnaire (n-69) and follow up qualitative interviews (n-14). The questionnaire was distributed to British Red Cross destitution centres throughout March 2013 and follow up interviews were conducted in Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham and London throughout June and July 2013. Written or oral consent was obtained from all those participating in the study. Confidentiality and anonymity was assured before each questionnaire or interview began, and completed questionnaires were stored in sealed envelopes, and then sent to the British Red Cross UK Office via recorded delivery.

10

Ministry of Justice (2011) Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales; the Government Response

http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm80/8072/8072.pdf

In follow up interviews, permission to digitally record was granted in 10 interviews, and extensive notes were taken in the four where permission was not granted. An interpreter was required for 12 of the 14 interviews and they generally lasted between 30 and 60 minutes. Twelve were conducted in person, and two were conducted over the telephone. Questionnaire and interview data was analysed by looking for emerging issues and themes, and three interviews have been selected to illustrate this issue in the form of case studies. These were selected in line with the aims of the interview data collection aims, and show a case which has reached completion, a case which is ongoing but began before the introduction of the cuts to legal aid, and a case which began after the introduction of legal aid cuts. Direct quotations from respondents are included in this report in italics. > Profile of participants British Red Cross destitution centres often speak with clients who are vulnerable and sometimes suspicious or frightened. For this reason, we decided to ensure confidentiality and retain trust by omitting the collection of demographic data from the initial questionnaire. We favoured the addition of a question which asked if clients consented to further contact, and this was accepted by 41 of the participants. They were contacted by front line staff in June and July 2013. As a result, a total of 14 interviews were scheduled and conducted across British Red Cross premises in England and Scotland. All but one of the interview participants were male and all but two cases involved children. One case involved a same sex relationship and one involved a husband seeking to be united with his wife. Two respondents had been successfully reunited with their families in the UK, four were unable to begin the Family Reunion process and the remaining eight were at various stages in the process. Respondents came from a variety of countries including Syria, Iran, Egypt, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Yemen. The youngest participant was 30 and the oldest was 58. > Data collection aims > Assess the potential impact of legal aid cuts for refugee family reunion cases for our clients. > Aid recruitment for follow up qualitative interviews. > Gain a comprehensive insight into the experiences of clients who: 1. Have successfully completed a refugee family reunion application. 2. Are in the process of completing a refugee family reunion application. 3. Have been unable to begin a refugee family reunion application.

By combining these two data collection methods, we can monitor the general impact across our service users and then explore particular cases in greater detail. This gives us a combination of numerical evidence and rich testimonies, and helps to give an understanding of how many services users are affected, as well as how they are affected. The relatively small sample size means that results cannot claim to be wholly representative of the refugee population in the UK. This study represents a particular group of people and its value is in demonstrating the likely impact of legal aid cuts for those who want to exercise their right to refugee family reunion.

> Questionnaire findings For the 69 people who completed the questionnaire, 61 had used a solicitor and the majority of cases (58) were intended to reunite nuclear family members. For those who accessed legal support for refugee family reunion, all but four were using legal aid rather than private funding. Those who were funding privately all found it difficult to do so, and were receiving help from friends or an ex-partner. The majority of respondents thought that refugee family reunion would be difficult without legal assistance and all of the people who were using legal aid for refugee family reunion (52) said that without it, they wouldn’t be able to afford legal advice.
60

55

48

36

24

12 1 4

0

0

0

Very easy

Easy

Ok

Difficult

Very difficult

‘’Do you think it [family reunion] would be very easy, easy, ok, difficult or very difficult without legal assistance?”

British Red Cross clients are heavily reliant on legal support and a consistent point of contact for advice on refugee family reunion cases. On the few occasions where private funding has formed the basis for legal advice, the source has been family, friends, churches or high interest loans. Only one client (out of 69) was able to finance a refugee family reunion case with his/her own savings.

> Interview findings After analysis of the interview recordings and corresponding notes, a number of themes emerged. These can be categorised under two broader themes surrounding the need for support for the refugee family reunion process, and the effects on refugees. The need for support for refugee family reunion There was agreement across the respondents that the application process of refugee family reunion was complex and required professional support. Those who had received support throughout the process were thankful that legal aid was there, and those who were unable to begin an application were saddened and frustrated that it had been removed. There are a number of reasons which contribute to the complexity of this process and illustrate the importance of professional support. Language difficulties Just two of the 14 respondents were able to speak, read or write English at the time of their application, and all 12 of those who didn’t know any English commented on how difficult it made both understanding the process and beginning an application. In each case, they needed help to ask about the process and locate the necessary form. In the cases which were conducted before the removal of legal aid, this help was often provided by the same solicitors who had assisted with their asylum case. For refugees applying for family reunion after the cuts to legal aid, they were often told about the process by friends and/or charitable organisations. They were both surprised and disappointed that the application had to be submitted in a language which they neither spoke nor understood, and that legal help was no longer available to them. “I don’t speak the language in this country. How can I begin to fill out a legal form? I need help.” In both cases where the respondents could speak English, they commented on how difficult the process would be without the knowledge they have. “If I couldn’t speak any English, I wouldn’t know where to begin or who to ask. I feel sorry for those who come here and cannot speak the language.” “Even if your English is good, filling out the form is difficult. You are anxious because you know that a small mistake will mean that your application is rejected or delayed. This is not good because you are already scared for your family and do not want them to wait any longer, especially if they are in danger.” Financial difficulties All of those interviewed mentioned money when referring to their refugee family reunion case. Those who had received legal aid throughout the application process said that they wouldn’t have been able to fund their case privately. Those who were unable to receive legal aid for their case had been quoted between £300 and £500, and did not have the money to pay. This meant that they were unable to continue with an application. “I’m from Syria and my asylum application was very quick. The lawyer was free and he stamped my papers, which was very quick. It’s getting my family here that is the difficult part, and for that I have to pay. I don’t understand why this part isn’t included.”

Some respondents had spent all their savings and/or sold items to get to the UK, often paying people to smuggle them into the country. In cases where people had been granted status after the introduction of cuts to legal aid, there were high levels of stress, anxiety and desperation when they learned that they would have to pay for legal support for their family reunion application. “I had to sell my house to get here and I don’t have any money left. I don’t know what I’m going to do next.” Some respondents were receiving jobseekers allowance and other benefits, and sending the cash to family members who were displaced in countries neighbouring their host country. For example, one gentleman from Syria sent as much of his money as he could to his family, who were living without support in Egypt. “I want to get a job and spend money here, on clothes and food for my children. But I have to send as much back to them as they can. All they have are some handouts from the local Mosque.” Some respondents were waiting for housing and unemployment benefits to begin, and were living off donations from community members, friends and churches. None of them were in a position to borrow money from official lenders, and all had tried. Lack of knowledge and access A common barrier to the refugee family reunion process was a lack of knowledge about UK administration, law and culture. Many respondents said that they found it difficult to know where to begin with an application because they didn’t understand much about UK society or its processes. “To complete this, you need knowledge of legal processes in the UK. I do not have this so I need help.” Even when respondents did understand who to approach for help and how to access the relevant forms for refugee family reunion, they struggled with completing them online due to a lack of online access. “I had to complete my application in the library because I can’t afford to go to an internet café. But in the library, I am only allowed one hour at a time so I rushed through the application and made mistakes.” One respondent made a crucial mistake on his refugee family reunion application form. He didn’t understand the cultural differences between his home country and the UK in terms of adoption. He had informally adopted a two-year-old child because both parents had died, one as a result of suicide. In his culture, the villagers get together when a child is orphaned, and they decide who will take over parental duties. The child was brought up alongside this gentleman’s biological children for five years before he was forced to flee to the UK. He was unable to get legal support to complete the refugee family reunion form but was educated and spoke English, so attempted it himself. He was successful in obtaining visas for his biological children but his adopted child was refused. If he had been able to obtain help for his application, the caseworker would have added a cover letter explaining the cultural differences in adoption, making a successful case much more likely. He was extremely distressed during the interview. “How can I tell my two children that they can come, but the third can’t? I have raised her as a daughter. How is she going to feel? She will think I don’t love her as much.”

The effects on refugees Much of the interview content focused on the effects that a pending or failed family reunion case was having on refugees in the UK. There were a number of issues which affected people who were in this predicament. Poor mental health All of the respondents fled their country of origin for fear of persecution. Some had been driven from their homes, some had been tortured, and one had been raped. When they arrived in the UK, many suffered from high levels of depression, stress and anxiety. They were in a constant state of worry for their families’ welfare, and missed the love support that the family unit could provide. One respondent was so depressed that she attempted suicide twice and subsequently spent two months in a psychiatric hospital. “I fled from Syria with my whole family and we went to Egypt. It was there that I had to leave them. Now I am in the UK and I’m trying to bring them here. I’m glad that they are not in Syria anymore, but Egypt is also a dangerous place. I’m very worried about them.” “There is so much pressure on me and my wife. My children are asking why they can’t come to be with me and I don’t know what to tell them.” Problems with integration All of those who were unable to proceed with their case were struggling with finances and social inclusion. None had managed to secure employment despite having the right to work, and one was surviving on charity because his benefits had been temporarily stopped while he was assessed for disability benefits. There was a clear lack of motivation for those respondents who were separated from their families, and it was affecting their ability to integrate properly into UK society. “I live in a small room and stay there most days because I don’t have much money. I don’t know how to cook. I’m lost without my wife and children.” “I want to work so that I can have pride again. Claiming jobseekers allowance is like begging to me. Jobs are hard to find here and for me, it’s even more difficult because all I do is think about my family. I have little motivation because they are not here with me.” In the two cases where families had been successfully brought to the UK, increased integration and motivation was evident. One gentleman had enrolled in a course at college, and one had arrived to the research interview from a job interview with a security firm. He had spent two years in the UK while his family was in Egypt, and admitted to struggling with motivation to work and a desire to contribute to society. In the year that his family had been with him in the UK, all four of his children were in school, his wife was enrolled in English classes and he had completed four training courses. These were in English language, chemistry, physics and security. “Now that my family are with me, I can help myself because I can get a job and support them. I don’t worry about their safety anymore and this is the beginning of a new life for all of us.”

Case studies
Case study 1- This case began before legal aid cuts for family reunion were introduced. It has been concluded. K, a Somali national, wanted to apply for his wife and three children to enter the UK under refugee family reunion provisions. K had been assisted by members of the community to complete the form online but had completed it incorrectly. Dates of birth did not match and one of the children’s names was spelt incorrectly. K had not known to send the requisite documents to his wife and was told that there was no need to send proof of his status as the British authorities would be able to trace him on their database. The applications were refused, his wife reported she felt humiliated by the interview and she and the children had to stay in a hotel at great cost in Mombasa while the decision was being processed. K was advised that the appeal process could take six months and that working with an experienced provider on a new application would be preferable. K’s family case was carefully prepared, furnished with expertly translated documents and all necessary documentation and the form was completed on K’s behalf. The specialist worker knew to carefully check and cross check all information. He was able to advise K that he would need to make a formal submission regarding the lack of consistency in the child’s recorded date of birth. K’s family were successful in their second application and entered the UK within twelve weeks.

Case study 2- This case began before Legal Aid cuts for Family Reunion were introduced. It has not yet been concluded. R is from Uganda and in 2007, she and her partner were sent to prison for being in a homosexual relationship. R was physically and sexually abused in prison. Her family removed her after one week and intended to sacrifice her to take the ‘curse of being gay away from the family’. She was able to escape and arrived in the UK, where she was immediately referred to the police because of her injuries. Police photographs were taken and they were consistent with her claims of abuse. After being granted asylum in 2008, she began to suffer serious psychological trauma as a result of what had happened. She attempted suicide twice and was committed to a psychiatric hospital for two months. It was a year before she recovered enough to begin to start the process of being reunited with her partner. She discovered that her partner was being kept in a different prison and did not know her whereabouts, so began to work to try and raise money for someone to help. On several occasions people promised that for money, they could help locate R’s partner. They kept her money and didn’t help. In 2011, R finally found her partner and tried to arrange a passport and documents for her. This was a labourious and expensive process and R sent much of what she earned to Uganda in an attempt to secure the correct paperwork. She had a solicitor who was preparing a Family Reunion case for her but this was dependent on the correct documents. Her partner could not obtain these herself as she was in hiding after her release from prison. The documents did not arrive until after April 2013 and her case is now out of scope for legal aid. She has decided that rather than attempt to fill the form in herself, she will wait as she has been told that some organisations are trying to get funding to help in cases such as hers.

She said: “I would like a form where you could put a statement together, telling your story, rather than go through all these questions. It’s a confidence thing. My English is really good and I still don’t understand the form. I don’t think an English person would be able to fill it in correctly. “When you are in the system, you know that mistakes put you back to the start so you’re scared. You know that one small error will put you back to the start and there is so much pressure, especially if the person is in danger. The fear of making a mistake stems from the fact that one mistake could see you wait for many months. These months are wasted when the person you are trying to be reunited with remains in danger. This could be costly in terms of someone’s life.”

Case Study 3- This case began after legal aid cuts for family reunion were introduced. It has not yet been concluded. M is a 58 year old Syrian national with a wife and five children. His oldest child is eight and his youngest is just over 10 months. They left Syria together and arrived in Lebanon, where they stayed for two days before moving on to Egypt. He had a temporary visa because he had been in the UK before but his family was denied this. He arrived in the UK at the end of April and was granted leave to remain on 12th May. He called his solicitor straight away asked about how he could apply to be reunited with his family. He was told that he would have to pay £350 in fees. He doesn’t have money to pay for this and is becoming increasingly worried about his wife and five children, who are living on the charity of the local mosque in an unstable country. He doesn’t speak any English and has very little knowledge of how to complete the form without help. He said: “I don’t know anything about the forms, how to fill them in. I was shocked that the UKBA do not help with this because I don’t know anything about it. All I know is that if you make a mistake, it will be refused and it will take more time to appeal, and I want to be with my family soon.” His friend, who speaks some English, doesn’t want to help because he doesn’t fully understand the form either and is scared of making a mistake and causing further delays to M’s case. M’s children regularly ask when they will be able to see him and he is becoming depressed because he cannot answer with any certainty. He said: “I want to thank the UK government for granting me leave to remain, but there is no meaning if I can’t have my family here. I have been to the UK to work before and the UK Border Agency knows about me. They spend money on Asylum and accommodation so why not family reunion? My kids cry when I call them, they don’t understand why they can’t be with me and they want to see me.”

English case vs. Scottish case In Scotland, legal aid is still in scope for refugee family reunion cases. The below table shows the step by step process of two cases which arose from the qualitative interviews.
English case Refugee status granted for Syrian national in April 2013. Client is referred to solicitor to begin refugee family reunion case. Solicitor advises client that refugee family reunion is no longer covered under legal aid provisions and will cost £300. Client approaches British Red Cross offices for advice because he has no money to pay. British Red Cross staff explain that free legal representation is no longer available. They try and arrange an appointment with an Immigration solicitor who is offering pro bono work in the area but this solicitor has no capacity to take on more work. Client is left without a resolution and is no further along with his case. He is distressed and in regular contact with the British Red Cross. He is falling in and out of destitution. Scottish case Refugee status granted for Iranian national in April 2013. Client is referred to solicitor to begin refugee family reunion case Solicitor seems uninterested in this case and refers client to British Red Cross for advice. Client approaches British Red Cross offices for advice. British Red Cross staff contact a local law centre on behalf of the client. A level 2 accredited OISC caseworker is assigned to this case and provides help and support throughout, both in terms of checking the form and advising on procedure. This case has been accepted and clients family have been given a date to attend the Turkish Embassy. Once visas are issued, the British Red Cross will arrange travel through its travel assistance scheme.

Analysis of the refugee family reunion form There is no specific application form upon which to apply for refugee family reunion. Finding the “right” generic form is difficult even for experienced advisers. refugee family reunion straddles both the asylum and immigration fields but is classified as an immigration process. There are therefore two distinct parts in the immigration rules that pertain to family reunion and additional policy guidance. This is not easy to find on the Home Office website. The published policy material mostly pertains to internal family reunion applications, and this is often misunderstood. The application must be made online, in English, and very often in the third person as it is typically the “sponsor” (the UK based refugee) that makes the application on behalf of the actual applicants who will be abroad, often in remote parts of the world. The fact that the hard copy version of the form and the online form do not match is unhelpful as it is difficult for advisers to then show applicants what material is required. The majority of the questions on the online form are closed questions with a drop down menu. The first two questions require the applicant to state what application they are making, this then steers the applicant to a specific set of questions pertinent to the type of application. It is in fact it very easy to answer the initial questions incorrectly as there is no reference to a family reunion visa. Throughout the form questions require the applicant to deliberately provide incorrect answers in order to be able to move on.

Much of the material on the online form is not relevant to refugee family reunion applications. For example, there are references to the payment of fees, when the refugee family reunion application is non chargeable and proving the sponsor can adequately maintain and support applications when this test does not exist in refugee family reunion matters. The “sponsor”, in line with all entry clearance applications must complete a sponsorship style form, dubbed appendix 4, but this needs to be sourced from an entirely separate website and again it is easy to complete the wrong appendix. Models for future delivery The British Red Cross has explored various service models to cover the lack of legal aid and reduce costs for clients. We have considered the viability of dedicated referral path mechanisms, casework partnerships and direct financial support. An end to end, one-stop service with experienced, expert and dedicated staff would ensure the smooth handling of applications and provide a consistent point of contact for clients. This would mean a reduction in resources and a probable reduction in appeals, which are costly in terms of both finances and time. An example of how a refugee family reunion casework service could be delivered has been explored with Rochdale Law Centre. Rochdale Law Centre has developed considerable expertise in the field of refugee family reunion work and has been able to reduce claim back costs of refugee family reunion files. We believe a successful pilot service could be established, operated jointly by the British Red Cross and Rochdale Law Centre. The British Red Cross is now looking at ways to fund a proportion of infrastructure costs, albeit in an already difficult financial environment. We believe that government has a role in terms of providing statutory funding for legal support of each individual case at a lower level than legal aid. > A business case One potential service model includes some British Red Cross staff practicing casework at OISC level 2. This would require significant investment in training and/or recruitment but would enable us to provide an end to end holistic service that could combine casework and travel assistance. Under this model, we would ask that the UK government funds the cases which require substantive appeals work, including representation at the first-tier and upper tribunal Immigration and asylum tribunal (OISC level 3). This funding should only be required if a case is exceptionally complicated or has been refused after an initial application. At OISC level 2, British Red Cross staff would able to explain the refugee family reunion process, draw a detailed family tree, confirm applicants details, assess the complexity of the case, open the file, source the paperwork, process the form, assist the family in gathering relevant and genuine evidence, check the evidence, submit the application, book the online appointments and book travel under the travel assistance scheme. Having dedicated caseworkers who are funded to focus specifically on refugee family reunion cases would improve the efficiency of casework and reduce the number of cases which require level 3 support. This benefits the client because they do not have to spend unnecessary time away from their families. It also benefits the government because fewer cases will reach a level which requires public investment and will reduce the amount of traffic flowing into the court system. On a policy level, a dedicated service will provide greater understanding of the issue, allowing more efficient targeting of resources in the future.

The British Red Cross is currently developing a pilot programme to increase our capacity to deliver OISC level 2, and expect this to be operational in the early part of 2014. However, further development of our level 2 capacity across the UK would take some time. As such, we would highlight the importance of an interim, part funded solution until this service is in place. This is to ensure that those who are applying for a refugee family reunion case do not suffer further delays while this service is being developed.

Conclusion
This research demonstrates that for British Red Cross refugee service users, adequate professional representation and “frontloading” of cases is often the difference between them being reunited with family members or remaining in the UK without them. It has shown that the form is so complicated that attempts to complete it without professional support are extremely unlikely to return a positive decision, and that people often won’t even try for fear of making a mistake. This causes increased depression and anxiety, exacerbated by concern for family members who are often living in unstable countries. Being separated from family members is hampering integration into UK society, and this research shows that clients who have been successfully reunited can begin to rebuild their lives. The British Red Cross is deeply concerned about the welfare of both the refugees in the UK and family members who are unable to join them. Refugees have fled from situations of great danger and they must be given the opportunity to try and recover, rebuild and live with dignity. This research shows that refugee family reunion is a crucial part of that process. > Policy recommendations arising from this research The UK government should simplify the form The refugee family reunion form is difficult to find and must be completed online, in English and in the third person. The UK government should adopt a specific and simplified form for refugee family reunion, with a set of clear accompanying guidance notes. The simplification of the form will result in fewer cases rejected for mistakes, and will aid specialist advisors in navigating the process. This will arguably save on costs, as it will reduce the flow of refugee family reunion appeal traffic flowing towards the courts. The British Red Cross should explore new service delivery models The removal of legal aid for refugee family reunion cases means that most refugees cannot afford to begin an application. The British Red Cross should continue to work with key partners in exploring the possibility of providing refugee family reunion work via new service models. This will ensure that our clients receive support with their application, and increase the likelihood of positive decisions. Our research has shown that refugees who have received positive decisions on their case are less likely to suffer from stress, anxiety and depression, and more likely to contribute to UK society.

The UK government should provide funding for complicated cases Most refugee family reunion cases falls under OISC level 2, with more complex cases and appeals requiring OISC level 3 support. The British Red Cross is developing a pilot programme to increase our capacity to deliver OISC level 2 representation, and asks that the UK government funds the cases which require level 3 representation. When we have reached capacity and can deliver a level 2 service across England and Wales, we will be able to reduce the amount of cases which require government support. This is because we will have dedicated caseworkers who are funded to focus specifically on refugee family reunion cases. The British Red Cross should work with key partners to discuss sustainable approaches to refugee family reunion cases. This research has shown that the absence of legal aid for refugee family reunion cases has had a significant impact on refugees who intend to be united with their families. The British Red Cross is keen to discuss a realistic and sustainable approach for providing legal support for refugee family reunion cases. This should include a ministerial roundtable meeting with the British Red Cross and UNHCR.

British Red Cross 44 Moorfields London EC2Y 9AL Tel 0844 871 1111 Fax 020 7562 2000 redcross.org.uk Published 2013
The British Red Cross Society, incorporated by Royal Charter 1908, is a charity registered in England and Wales (220949) and Scotland (SC037738) Cover photo © Paul Carter/UNP

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