Vulnerable refugees face 'legal limbo' and separation from families if there is no-deal Brexit, parliamentary committee warns

UK crashing out of EU would have 'significant humanitarian impact' on asylum seekers, peers say

Asylum seeker being threatened with deportation after 'failing English test'

Vulnerable refugees face being separated from their families and the prospect of lengthy bureaucratic delays in the event of a no-deal Brexit, a House of Lords committee has warned.

Peers said that leaving the EU without a deal would have a “significant humanitarian impact” on asylum seekers who have been separated from their families, and raised particular concerns about the welfare of “vulnerable unaccompanied children”.

The House of Lords home affairs committee said a no-deal Brexit could leave asylum seekers in “legal limbo” and facing the prospect of months of delays while the government sets up a new system for processing applications.

Even if no Brexit deal is agreed, ministers should promise to temporarily maintain current rules for allowing refugees to be reunited with their families, the committee said in a new report..

Under the terms of the Brexit deal agreed by Theresa May, the UK would remain part of the EU’s Dublin System for processing asylum applications until the end of 2020, during which time the government would seek to strike a new agreement with the EU on handling asylum seekers.

In the case of a no-deal Brexit, however, applications would be processed under UK immigration rules, which are stricter and have fewer criteria for allowing refuges to be reunited with their families.

The committee warned that leaving the EU system would mean “the loss of a safe, legal route for the reunification of separated refugee families in Europe”.

It said: “This aspect of the Dublin System has seen improvements in recent years, and family reunion cases now make up more than 80 per cent of incoming Dublin transfers to the UK.

“We are particularly concerned about a potential reduction in the reunion rights of vulnerable unaccompanied children, who are able to be reunited with a broader range of family members under the Dublin System than under UK Immigration Rules.”

It added: “In a ‘no deal’ Brexit scenario, the UK’s sudden departure from the Dublin System could have a significant humanitarian impact on separated refugee families, leaving them in legal limbo and at risk of falling into gaps in the system. We are not satisfied that the [UK immigration rules] provide sufficient protection against disruption to family reunion routes."

The peers said the current system also provides “safeguards” such as time limits for processing applications and powers to stop people claiming asylum in two countries at once.

They called on the government “to offer public reassurances that it has no intention of curtailing the rights and protections afforded to refugees in the UK after Brexit” and to agree to a “temporary extension of current arrangements”.

Ministers should also explain how EU funding for helping refugees to settle and integrate in the UK will be replaced, they said, after the Home Office appeared to suggest that the programmes would be scrapped in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Lord Jay, the chair of the committee, said: “The UK has a long and proud history of offering sanctuary to those fleeing conflict and persecution. We must continue to play our part in helping to manage record numbers of forcibly displaced people worldwide, including through continued cooperation with the EU on asylum issues after Brexit."

He added: “The needs of refugees and asylum seekers have received little attention in the wider debate on UK withdrawal from the EU, but it is essential that they are not overlooked. Neither the UK nor the EU should contemplate vulnerable people who have already experienced trauma facing additional suffering as a result of Brexit.”

It came as Brandon Lewis, the immigration minister, warned that EU citizens who miss a 2021 deadline for applying to remain in the UK after Brexit could be deported.

He told German newspaper Die Welt: “If EU citizens have not registered by then without an adequate justification, the immigration rules will apply."

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has a proud history of providing protection to those who need it and that will not change after we leave the EU. We take our responsibilities towards unaccompanied children extremely seriously and in the last 12 months we gave protection to over 7,000 children.

“Deal or no deal, cooperation will continue on asylum and returns as it is in the interests of the UK and the EU. That is why we have taken proactive action to ensure that whatever the circumstances, Dublin requests relating to family reunification that have not been resolved on the date we leave will continue to be processed in a no deal situation.”

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