Today I spoke at a powerful event in Parliament. The Museum Without a Home exhibition, created by Oxfam and Amnesty International, is a touring exhibition which started in Greece, celebrating the ways people welcome refugees into their local communities. It includes items given to new arrivals to support them as they adapted to new surroundings: a quilt made by people in Oxfordshire (pictured above), books donated to a refugee library in Birmingham and letters written by Glaswegians welcoming refugees to their city.
While material gifts like this can help refugees feel welcome, they are nothing compared being able to live with your family. Two speakers at the event today told powerful accounts of how they had suffered as refugees when they were separated from close family members.
This is a common story. In 2017, a record 68.5 million people across the world were forced to flee their homes because of war, persecution and disaster. The process is frightening, difficult and often chaotic – unsurprisingly, many families are separated in the process. We can, and should, be doing more to help them be reunited.
The good news is that legislation going through Parliament may change this. Earlier this year I helped successfully rally cross-party support for Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill (brought by SNP MP Angus Brendan MacNeil) at its second reading. MPs voted 129 to 42 in favour of the Private Member’s Bill, a great result on a Friday, usually a constituency day.
The Bill, if passed, would give child refugees in the UK the right to bring family members via family reunion, allowed by the vast majority of other European countries. It would also expand the definition of family so young people who have turned 18 and elderly parents can live with their families in the UK. Lastly, it would reintroduce legal aid so refugees who have lost everything have the support they need to afford and navigate the complicated process of being reunited with their families.
If we fail to pass the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill, we have another opportunity to put forward amendments to same effect in the Immigration Bill. Whatever the mechanism, I will continue to work with MPs from other parties to have these rights instated in law. The event today showed me, yet again, that these changes could improve life for people who have been tragically forced from their homes.