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Family reunification before and after Brexit: RLS's work in Greece

The year 2020 saw people the world over endure great hardship, as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold. We felt sadness at being separated from loved ones and frustrated at not being able to travel as we usually do with ease. It was a sobering time for us at RLS as we realise that this suffering is the norm for the people seeking protection that we exist to support.

On top of the Covid-19 pandemic, 2020 was also a year of increased anxiety for many people who call the UK home, as the Brexit deal was finally done and the UK left the European Union. RLS has worked both with and for people seeking protection in Greece including unaccompanied children, who have close family in the UK. The harsh reality guiding our work in 2020 was that family reunification under ‘Dublin’ (the EU’s Dublin III Regulation that determines which EU member state should be responsible for a person seeking asylum’s claim), is no longer possible post-Brexit.

The sinister reality we now face is that applications such as those RLS were working on a mere month ago, are no longer possible. The vast majority of people previously eligible to be reunited with close family members in the UK will now face uncertainty or indefinite separation thanks to a lack of legal routes to the UK. Unaccompanied minors are more likely to suffer alone whilst adults will in many cases have no redress to reunite with spouses or children. All people seeking protection in Greece must endure incredibly harsh conditions and a notoriously dysfunctional asylum system, which are worsening due to the current health crisis and increasingly punitive measures from the right-wing government.

At the beginning of the year, RLS urged Parliament to maintain legal protections previously enacted in the EU (Withdrawal) Act to ensure children had the same or improved rights to reunite with family in the UK following Brexit.

Prior to the national lockdown in Greece, RLS set to work on outreach missions in and around Athens, including regular visits to isolated camps to speak with people with family reunification cases. RLS produced information materials in multiple languages regarding Dublin family reunification and Brexit, available on our website in PDF as well as audio form, for those who cannot read. RLS also provided training to other groups on the ground in Greece in need of legal information on family reunification.

RLS were worried to see that in April 2020, the action plan agreed on between the UK and Greek governments neglected to address the plight of unaccompanied children seeking reunification with family members in the UK. We made our concerns known, writing an article for esteemed immigration law blog, Freemovement, to raise awareness.

RLS shared their expertise on family reunification within the legal community too, writing for the Immigration Law Practitioner’s Association (ILPA) and devising a training unit for Freemovement whose online courses are absolutely invaluable to immigration practitioners.

As people prepared for a festive break in December, RLS’s work on the ground in Greece intensified. It was a race against time as people with beloved family members in the UK struggled to request family reunification. Numerous children alone in Greece were referred to RLS, technically eligible to be reunited with family members in the UK but facing immense obstacles to requesting reunification. Many children were entirely undocumented in Greece, having been unable to claim asylum. RLS expedited these children’s registrations, requesting assistance from the newly appointed Special Secretary for Minors in Greece.

Adults were referred to RLS too. Even if they had already registered their claims for asylum, they were struggling to submit the essential documents required in order to request reunification. RLS managed to ensure that all persons we represented, minors and adults alike, registered their claims for asylum and submitted all necessary documents so that their requests for family reunification were sent to the UK before the end of the Brexit transition period on 31/12/20. The work at RLS’s clinic in Athens ensured that applications were made for people in Greece to join husbands, wives, aunties, brothers, sisters and children in the UK.

Now, RLS is gearing up to fight for families in 2021, post-Brexit. Our Athens clinic continues to go strong and we will also have a presence on the Greek island of Lesvos. Plus, RLS is piloting an innovative collaborative project with world renowned law firms to offer pro-bono support to those facing separation now critical legal routes to reunification have been closed. We are grateful for any support you can offer and are currently recruiting.


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