‘How should the UK change its refugee family reunification policies’: LD4SOS at Brighton Fringe meeting

There were plenty there to hear our panel of speakers and enjoy the refreshments provided courtesy of Lib Dem Voice despite us clashing  with a big consultation on the supporters scheme.

Tim Farron MP started off with a review of the overall position and welcomed the approval earlier in the day of policy motion F16 with all 5 amendments, most notably amendment #1 (LD4SOS). He reminded us that in debates we are not just talking about policies but real people who are affected. He talked about the experience of visiting  Calais, where it was clear that what people were looking for was safety, not a nice life on benefits.

Then there were people entering Europe. When he was helping on a Greek Island as a boat full to overflowing of refugees landed, one woman told him “Stop handing out bottles of water and accept some ****** refugees.” Hearing stories from a family with good job and business back in Syria he asked himself “What makes such a family flee and put their much loved children at risk?”.

The refugees then hit a wall. In Thessaloniki they could get no further.

Baroness Sally Hamwee has piloted the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill through the Lords, and Tim hopes to see it through the Commons; it may be that a similar Bill, proposed by Angus MacNeil, which passed second reading in the Commons on 16th March, will ultimately prevail: it is the end result for those affected that matters most.

In Cologne he found quite a different from pictures painted from what was portrayed in the media recently, and he wished that our country could be the same in accepting refugees – they were contributing to society in different ways, and it is us that are missing out here.

Tim further spoke of the broad breadth of experience people brought to the UK (in contrast to the shame of UK expats in southern Spain not integrating!) and how much more they could do if given the right to work and were able to learn the English language.

Jon Featonby from the British Red Cross told us how they help people through the process of applying for asylum, and then when they are successful, they want to know how to unite with others in their family.

Because of the set rules that we have, there are very difficult decisions to make when a family leaves a war-torn area. What to do with siblings, under and over 18 years old? Leave them at home or bring them with them ?

Jon noted that, whilst 6 months ago that day, there was a victory in Parliament, families are still apart. Amnesty, Oxfam and Refugee Council all have petitions and campaign details on their websites. Amnesty are working on a giant photo album to show to the Home Office about the impact of Family reunification.

He argued that the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme has been huge success so far, but it should not be cut off in 2020, but extended and more countries be included (as in the F16 Policy paper).

Finally, Jon noted that, the current rules that restrict state assistance in housing and welfare to 28 days post-recognition, is a huge issue for those given leave to remain. He similarly lamented the fact that refugees are only granted temporary rather than indefinite leave to remain.

Dr Ruvi Ziegler (Associate Professor in International Refugee Law at the University of Reading) discussed the UK’s policies on family reunion in European and international perspectives. He emphasised that the absence of safe and legal routes to asylum in Europe inevitably leads individuals to seek refuge and subsequently wish to reunite with their family and noted that the number of persons resettled globally is dismal – less than 1% of the total refugee population.

He suggested the European human rights law, especially the right to family life, as well as the principle of the ‘Best interests of the Child’ in the Convention on the rights of the Child could help bring about policy change in the UK.

He argued that, a liberal (and Liberal) policy for integration and family reunion is desirable, including extending political rights to refugees. In respect of the European refugee ‘crisis’, Ruvi noted that the fault lies in large part with the “Dublin” system, under which the ‘burden’ is borne by economically weaker states in Southern Europe, and that part of the solution for the EU lies in extending intra-EU freedom of movement to refugees and other beneficiaries of protection.

The meeting ended with a Q and A session – never enough time for a good discussion, sadly, and thanks for the food, LDV!

(note, the new policies in the Policy Paper 131 and LD4SOS amendment #1 as adopted as part of F16 mean that we do now have policies on Family Reunion, restoration of Legal Aid, the Right to Work, Learning English, extension of the SVRPS scheme, and having 60 days grace to move out of accommodation when granted leave to remain.)


* Suzanne Fletcher was a councillor for nearly 30 years and a voluntary advice worker with the CAB for 40 years. Now retired, she is active as a campaigner in the community both as a Lib Dem and with local organisations and author of "Bold as Brass?", the story of Brass Crosby.

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  • Suzanne,

    Although I have been called an ‘Agent Provocateur’ on here, I have a serious question on the numbers issue that seems to be conveniently ignored when discussing the issue of refugees using the emotion of an individual case.

    Can you as an advocate for refugees suggest what you think is a reasonable level for the UK to accept.

    If we take the UN figures, there are approaching 100 million ‘ refugees’ across the world.

    There are about 100 countries with populations of more than 10 million that could reasonably be expected to take more than 100,000 or 1% of their population. Included in that 100 countries are many principally from Asia(Japan) and the Middle East(Saudi Arabia), that don’t accept any refugees at all, also part of that 100 includes most of Africa, who themselves are creating the bulk of the ‘ refugees’, and are obviously not either willing to take any , or the ‘refugees’ themselves are not interested in going there.

    That leaves perhaps 40 countries which are destinations of choice for the 100 million, with most of the 40 countries having sub 50 million populations themselves. If we take this at its simpliest with the 100 million divided by 40 whatever the population of the country, that equates to about 2.5million for each country. To absorb 100 million without completely overwhelming smaller countries, it would be likely that countries would be expected to accept 2 or 3%, and that assumes that countries like India and China take their share.

    My question is simply would you , or the LIberal Democrats be happy for 2 to 3 million refugees to be brought to this country to help deal with the crisis, because these are the real figures we are talking about. If we can’t give sanctuary to the 100 million, why do people thinking helping a few thousand somehow salves their moral dilemma.

  • UNCHR has put a number of 68.5 million on refugees. 57% of the total come from three countries – South Sudan, Syria and Afghanistan. People displaced inside their own country accounted for 40 million of the total. Four out of five refugees remain in countries next door to their own. Lebanon hosted the largest number of refugees relative to its national population. In all, 63 per cent of all refugees under UNHCR’s responsibility were in just 10 countries.Leading the displacement during 2017 was the crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the wars in South Sudan and Yemen and the flight into Bangladesh from Myanmar of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugee.

    The UNCHR global strategy recognising that humanitarian relief is treating the symptom will renew a focus on International cooperation on conflict resolution as a means of trying to reverse the decades long trends of annually growing refugee numbers.

  • Mick Taylor 25th Sep '18 - 1:19pm

    Any view you take on refugees depends largely on how you see them. The evidence is that refugees, if given the opportunity, work hard, support themselves and contribute to the economy they have taken refuge in through paying taxes, establishing businesses and providing employment for others.
    The UK currently doesn’t allow refugees to work until their applications are agreed. I would allow them to do so. My mother, a refugee from Nazi Germany, was interned as a German national at the start of WW2 and would have been sent back to certain death if the Daily Mail and its ilk had had their way. So I have strong views on why we should accept refugees.
    We are a rich country, albeit one that is being appallingly managed by the Tories. We can afford to be generous and we should be. A few years ago many refugees came to the UK from the former Yugoslavia because of the wars and ethnic cleansing going on in that former country. I knew quite a lot of them. Whilst they were grateful for the sanctuary offered and wanted to work hard whilst they were here, what they wanted most was to return to their homes and now the wars in the region have largely ended many of them have done so. They contributed far more to the UK than they took.
    So trying to put a figure on it is impossible because the need for sanctuary is ever changing. I would never turn away refugees. Common humanity and – in my case my Quaker beliefs – mean that those who are in need should be welcomed and helped to join the rest of the UK community in our common enterprise as a country.
    Jack Graham. Your attitude is mean spirited. I reject totally your approach.

  • Jack Graham 25th Sep '18 - 1:57pm

    @ Mick Taylor

    My attitude is mean spirited.

    Why because I asked a simple question, and want to know what the LibDem position is?

    You obviously have a clear vision, and would presumably allow unlimited numbers of those in need, presumably upto the 65 million that Joe B corrected me on, as do many other LibDems.
    It is an honourable position, why then do the LibDems not promote that view at every election. If it is what LibDems believe in passionately, why do they not promote it at all, because it never seems to pop up at election time.

    How do you expect to raise your support if you don’t sing your beliefs from the rooftops.

  • OnceALibDem 25th Sep '18 - 7:12pm

    @Jack Graham ‘part of that 100 includes most of Africa, who themselves are creating the bulk of the ‘ refugees’, and are obviously not either willing to take any , or the ‘refugees’ themselves are not interested in going there.’

    There are 22 African countries with more refugees per 1000 inhabitants then the UK. And 10 African countries with more total refugees than the UK (2015 figures – UNHCR data – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_refugee_population)

    Don’t know if you want to revisit that claim.

  • To me, refugees should ideally be accepted before setting foot on eu shores. They should be asked where they want to live and who they want to bring with them. Then it is up to that country to decide whether to accept their request. It is important they are given full citizen status as soon as possible and be allowed to work within weeks rather than months. I think a six month conditional period would be sensible so if progress is not made in assimilation by then, they try another country or return home.

  • If we are talking stats. There are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, of which 40 million are internally displaced. Amongst this number there are many who feel safe enough in their new area and will not become refugees. 25.4 million are, however, recognised as refugees ie they have left their home country. These comprise 19.9 million under the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) mandate and 5.4 million Palestinian refugees registered by UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees) in the near East. Over half of these refugees are under 18 years.
    In addition there are 3.1 million asylum seekers worldwide, some of whom may be seen on the streets of our cities, poverty stricken and unable to work. Half of the 27,000+ people who entered UK Immigration Removal Centres last year were asylum seekers.
    So those are the statistics and we all have our own asks in terms of numbers who could be allowed entry into this country: 10,000 refugees per year via the SVPRS or similar scheme is the chosen figure in our new policy and it remains to be seen whether the Home Secretary and Minister for Immigration will go for that one. If only Angela Merkel and others had been able to get agreement to an EU refugee quota based on the population and wealth of each member state I am sure that refugees would have benefitted from a fairer and hopefully more generous system.

  • Maybe we can take a leaf from the book of this year’s finalist in the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award. Mayor Andreas Hollstein sees refugees as a benefit for his community and when unprecedented numbers arrived in Europe seeking safety, he volunteered to take more than his town’s fair share. His west German town of Altena (population 17,000) has accepted, supported and resettled 450 asylum-seekers since 2013.
    “ We are taking small steps and sending out small signals,” says Hollstein. “We can’t solve all the problems of all the millions of refugees in the world but we can do our bit to improve things to the best of our ability. I think we’ve done that and it didn’t overwhelm us. It’s not the big words of top politicians that are important. It’s the people out there showing the humanitarian face of Europe – and that’s us.” Before the refugees arrived the town was struggling, factories were closing and its population dwindled. Now the mayor has managed to turn things around, using the potential and skills brought by the new arrivals and the community is thriving once again. To encourage integration and conversations, which become more fluent quite quickly, newcomers are housed in apartments in various parts of the town, rather than in a separate, central shelter. When they move in, they are introduced to their new neighbours by volunteers.
    This approach may be seen in the many Welcome groups of volunteers set up in the UK to work with refugees alongside NGOs such as Refugee Action and local councils. It works here and in Germany – the difference is really one of numbers. My town of 90,000 is the Home Secretary’s constituency but sadly has just 1 asylum seeker and 1 Syrian refugee ( WMSMP figures). We are told that property is too expensive and that private landlords cannot be found who are willing to offer accommodation to refugees on housing benefit. Social housing cannot be used because local residents will object ( nobody asked us, by the way). Maybe we need Mayor Hollstein here.

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