CALLOUS and unfair rules are condemning children fleeing conflict and human rights abuses to life without their closest family members, according to a new report.

Compiled by Amnesty International UK, the Refugee Council and Save the Children, the report – Without My Family – details how the UK Government’s policy on refugee family reunion is damaging the lives of children in the UK.

The document is based on a series of in-depth interviews with children and young people affected by the policy, and its legal analysis claims the UK’s position puts it directly in breach of its legal obligations under national and international law.

“This policy is leaving some of the most vulnerable children separated from their families at a time when they need their parents most,” the report says.

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“The UK Government’s hard-line position deliberately keeps child refugees away from their parents and in the care of local authorities.

“This leaves parents and siblings with an impossible choice – never to see their closest family again or embark on a dangerous journey to try to reach them.”

It says the Government has recognised it would be unsafe for them to return to the country they escaped, but unlike adult refugees, they are denied the chance to be joined by their closest relatives.

“The UK Government argues that changing the rules would encourage parents to send their children on unsafe journeys in order to secure refugee status and enable their families to join them later. There is no evidence to support this,” it says.

One social worker supporting a boy from Syria said: “He was talking to me about … young people not recognising what humanity is about because there were lots of beheadings that were happening and he was telling stories about young people playing football with heads.”

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Kimberley, a legal representative for a Syrian boy, has heard other harrowing accounts: “He speaks about distressing experiences ... Bullets in his room, seeing dead bodies, people murdered in front of him, seeing hands cut off and having a rifle pointed at his head.”

The report wants the UK Government to reverse its policy and replace it with an evidence-based approach. This would be more consistent with its commitments under international and regional law, as well as decisions from its own courts.

A Home Office spokesperson said it supported the principle of family unity, adding: “However, we also believe that we must not create perverse incentives for people, particularly children, to be encouraged – or even forced – to leave their families and risk dangerous journeys hoping relatives can join them later.

“This plays into the hands of criminal gangs who exploit vulnerable people and goes against our safeguarding responsibilities.”