Executive Director Amanda Muñoz de Toro features in this article by George Lanington for Digis Mak.
The Home Office has been accused of failing to reunite vulnerable refugees who have the right to reunite with their families in the UK under EU law, leaving children alone and torture survivors stranded.
The government faced widespread criticism when it announced that the family reunification law would no longer apply after the UK left the EU, and promised that ongoing cases on that date could continue.
But the Safe Passage charity and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) have told The Guardian that since Brexit there has been no clear legal way to organize transfers. Lawyers in Greece and Italy said the Interior Ministry has stopped responding to requests to reorganize family reunions delayed by Covid.
An Afghan couple, both victims of severe torture under the Taliban regime, have been trapped in Greece for almost a year after receiving legal permission to reunite with their son and family in the UK.
Ewaz, 71, and Safora Faqiri, 64, arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos in January 2019. The couple, from Afghanistan’s Baghlan province, had been beaten and tortured by the Taliban, leaving them to both with false teeth. “They really hit me, especially on the legs. They knew my son lived in the UK, ”said Ewaz, who uses a cane due to the beating.
Their application for family reunification was granted last August and under EU law they should have traveled to the UK within six months. But Covid’s flight restrictions caused delays in theirs and in many other cases. His lawyers said that because the UK has left the EU, there is no clear route to reorganize its transfer.
“Our grandchildren ask us every day why we don’t go to their house,” Ewaz said. “We have lived like this for a long time and we feel really desperate.”
“I’ve been feeling very depressed,” Safora said, fighting back tears. He has serious health problems and has been afraid to leave home during the strict Greek blockade. “I just hope there is a way to get out of this situation as soon as possible.”
“The only person who can help us is our son,” Ewaz added. “Please don’t put us in our grave here in Greece.”
Lawyers said theirs is one of at least 80 cases of people entitled to be in the UK who have been stranded because the Home Office has not made it clear how out-of-law transfers can be carried out. of the EU.
Amanda Muñoz de Toro, of Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid, is the couple’s attorney. He said the current problems are in a long list of difficulties created by the Interior Ministry.
“The Fenix team and our legal partners in the UK required three requests and five appeals for the UK to finally grant permission for the couple to unite with their son. Throughout the 18-month process, the UK repeatedly took steps to thwart the process and avoid its legal obligations.
“Although it was Greece’s responsibility to transfer the couple before the six-month deadline, before Brexit, there were options to request an extension. As a result of the UK’s departure from the EU, there is no longer a legal procedure for these cases. Without a legal framework to lobby, this is now a political issue rather than a legal one.
Safe Passage said it had seen similar problems in Italy and France.
“Before Brexit, there was a clear process for children to be reunited with their families in the UK, but since then the government has failed to communicate effectively with European authorities,” said Bethany Gardiner-Smith, CEO of the NGO.
Ali, a 17-year-old from Eritrea, has been alone in Italy since last summer hoping to be reunited with his family in the UK. He said: “My life has gotten worse since Brexit. I received a positive response about my family reunion 10 months ago, but I always live with false hopes. The next day, the next month, I think I will go with my family to England. I hate my life.”
Ali’s lawyers said they believe the Interior Ministry has deliberately stopped participating because the six-month transfer deadline has passed, meaning they can avoid accepting his case.
“Flights were canceled many times due to Covid,” said Giulia Guietti, a lawyer for the Italian organization for refugees and asylum seekers Cidas. “We needed to reorganize the transfer, but as of January 1, after Brexit, the Interior Ministry stopped responding to each and every communication. Not just us, but they don’t respond to Italian Dublin. [regulation] Unit. They respond to some cases. But those where the deadline has passed and they need to give permission again, they don’t. We are pretty sure this is deliberate. “
A UNHCR spokesperson in Italy said it was also concerned about the lack of information coming from the UK. “The long waiting times for the family reunification procedure under the Dublin regulation have been further complicated in the months after the UK left the EU.
“Without clear answers, minors often lose faith in the possibility of reuniting through a regular procedure and decide to try to reach their families on their own, risking abuse and exploitation.”
In response, the Interior Ministry said: “The protection of vulnerable children is a top priority for the government. In 2019, the UK received more asylum applications from unaccompanied children than any other European country, including Greece and Italy. Once the UK accepts a request to transfer a child, it is the responsibility of the sending country to make the necessary arrangements to complete the transfer and we work with them to ensure this happens as quickly as possible.
“The UK offers a number of routes for people to reunite with their family members in the UK according to our immigration regulations.”