Unaccompanied child refugees wrongly refused family reunification by Home Office, High Court rules

Unaccompanied child refugees wrongly refused family reunification by Home Office, High Court rules
Hundreds of children stranded in Europe who were denied chance to reunite with loved ones in Britain could now have rejections overturned

Unaccompanied child refugees have been wrongly refused family reunification by the Home Office, the High Court has ruled.

Hundreds of children stranded in Europe who were denied the opportunity to reunite with their relatives in Britain last year could now have these rejections reversed, after a judge found that elements of the policy for processing these claims were unlawful.

Under family reunion rules, a child can apply to reunite with family members in the UK, at which point the Home Office must establish whether the link is genuine and whether the relative can care for the child before any transfer takes place.

But the Court found that the policy unlawfully advised caseworkers to refuse applications simply because they had failed to complete the necessary enquiries in time to meet the deadlines under the EU’s rules.

It also found that caseworkers had been wrongly instructed not to obtain local authority assessments of family members in the UK unless the Home Office was satisfied there was a genuine family relationship, despite the fact that these assessments can assist with this process.

Lord Justice Dingemans said the guidance, which has since been replaced, “mis-stated the law” when it said that local authorities would only be asked to undertake an assessment with the child’s family “once the family link has been established”.

He added: “The fact that guidance directed to caseworkers gives advice which is erroneous in law may lead to unlawful decisions.

“This does not assist unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors, who may have been wrongly denied the right to re-join family members while the claim for asylum was being processed.”

The High Court made a declaration that “specific parts of the guidance” are unlawful, but did not overturn the guidance as a whole as “there are substantial parts of the policy guidance which are not erroneous in law”.

Children who had family reunion claims wrongfully refused will now be able to ask for their cases to be re-examined by the Home Office in order to be reunited with their loved ones.

Jennine Walker, head of UK legal and arrivals at Safe Passage, which brought the legal challenge, said the ruling would “offer hope to many child refugees desperate to safely reunite with their families in the UK, who were wrongly turned away by the Home Office”.

“It should never have taken court action for the Home Office to decide applications fairly and lawfully, and we urge the government to put these wrongs right by swiftly reuniting those refugee families whose applications were refused,” she added.

It comes as the Home Office plans to introduce new laws that will mean refugees who arrived in the country via unauthorised routes will not be granted permanent protection.

Home secretary Priti Patel has said the department is in the process of reviewing legal routes to the UK from the EU for protection claimants, including to publicly consult on the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

A Home Office spokesperson said:We are pleased that the court found in our favour on most of the issues under challenge, and recognised the changes we implemented last year.

“We take the welfare of unaccompanied children extremely seriously and our Immigration Rules  provide a number of routes for people to reunite with family members in the UK. Our New Plan for Immigration will welcome people through safe and legal routes, whilst preventing abuse of the system and the criminality associated with it.”