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Brexit threat to refugee family reunion rights


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If and when Brexit happens, the UK will no longer take part in the “Dublin” system for transferring asylum seekers from one EU member country to another better placed to handle the asylum claim. A parliamentary committee says today that this will mean “the loss of a safe, legal route for the reunification of separated refugee families in Europe”.

The House of Lords EU Committee says that it is “particularly concerned about a potential reduction in the reunion rights of vulnerable unaccompanied children”.

Its report on Brexit: refugee protection and asylum policy warns that the sudden end to the Dublin system that would occur under a no deal exit would leave asylum seekers waiting for transfer to the UK in “legal limbo”.

But the committee said that international law should ensure that, in general, there will be “no diminution in the treatment and protection of asylum seekers in the UK” after Brexit.

Under Theresa May’s Brexit deal, the UK would remain part of the Common European Asylum System — which includes the Dublin regulation — until the end of the transition period. But the government wants to be shot of the system after that. It has already published regulations that would, when they come into force, scrap the Dublin system and various other measures.

Ministers do want to negotiate a new deal on asylum with the EU. As Colin pointed out to the committee in his oral evidence, last year’s Chequers plan (remember that?) talked about a “new, strategic relationship to address the global challenges of asylum and illegal migration”.

But the committee said that it was “concerned” by the lack of any reference to this in the future relationship element of May’s deal, which is still the only game in town.

It recommended that:

Future UK-EU asylum cooperation should take the Dublin System as
its starting point and include a framework for the speedy resolution of
refugee family reunion cases and a returns mechanism, ideally based
on continued UK access to the Eurodac database.

The end of the Dublin system comes just as it was starting to “prioritise the wellbeing and needs of people seeking asylum, over policy demands to increase removals”, in the words of the Red Cross. The UK has gone from being a net “sender” (as it were) of asylum seekers via Dublin transfer to a net “receiver”, as the chart below shows.

The Red Cross says that this is mainly down to the bit of the Dublin system that allows for families seeking asylum to be reunited while their claim is processed.

Further reading: The status of EU immigration and asylum law after Brexit and The impact of Brexit on UK asylum law: part two.

Interested in refugee law? You might like Colin's book, imaginatively called "Refugee Law" and published by Bristol University Press.

Communicating important legal concepts in an approachable way, this is an essential guide for students, lawyers and non-specialists alike.

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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.