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Safe routes to the UK are closed: displaced people share their experiences


New research from Refugee Legal Support highlights the barriers that refugees, asylum seekers and people fleeing conflict face to being reunited with loved ones in the UK.

The research raises the voices of displaced people from all over the world stuck in Europe and trying to reunite with their family in the UK post-Brexit. The research is even more troubling in light of the provisions attacking family reunion in the new Nationality and Borders Act.

With the UK government simultaneously criminalising people fleeing conflict and threatening repeatedly-displaced people with removal to Rwanda, the charity demonstrates the shocking state of one of the few legal routes available.

The research finds that the UK framework for family reunion is so inadequate that it can drive people to risk their lives to reunite with their families.

Through the testimony of separated family members and those who support them, the report documents the suffering that the family reunion system is inflicting on displaced people. It shows how families previously eligible for family reunion pre-Brexit are left in limbo as they wait years for outcomes. It also documents the strain that the system places on vital family relationships. These barriers put people in the unbearable position of choosing between potentially indefinite separation from their loved ones or risking their lives crossing the Channel.

The report uses interviews with clients of Refugee Legal Support and legal practitioners and the charity's own experience and data from its Family Reunion from Europe project to build up one of the most complete pictures of the state of family reunion in the UK post-Brexit.

The report found 6 key barriers to family reunion from Europe to the UK:

1. An inadequate legal structure fails to recognise important familial bonds

2. Displaced people in Europe seeking reunification with loved ones in the UK cannot find adequate support in their country of application

3. Unbearably lengthy delays through a bureaucratic process strain family

relationships and can lead people to seek unsafe, irregular routes to the UK

4. Displaced people and their loved ones are forced to use an unreasonably

evidentially-heavy process that undermines strong cases and discourages


5. A requirement to pay application fees and a fee waiver system that is not

functioning blocks access to the poorest and most precarious applicants

6. People struggle to find legal aid representation in an overburdened sector

Harry Harris, Casework Supervisor at RLS said: "Brexit has left displaced families in the EU facing unprecedented challenges to reuniting with their relatives in the UK. The failings of our family reunion framework are so profound that they leave family members with potential legal routes to the UK forced to consider dangerous journeys in the hope of being able to see their loved ones again. This is all while the UK government relentlessly pushes to dismantle what little protection still exists for separated refugee families.

The bonds between all family members must be respected, and the family reunion procedure must be amended to ensure that nobody is risking their life to reunite with parents, siblings, children or other family members in the UK."


Z lived with his mother his whole life. When he married, his young wife moved in with them and the three of them raised Z and his wife’s children together. The children consider Z’s mother as a second mum.

However, while Z and his family have been granted refugee status in the UK, his mother is stuck in Greece, where she’s struggling mentally and physically while living in appalling conditions. Z has been able to visit his mother and has spent long periods of time there with her, but he is unable to continue with his life in the UK while she remains stuck in an unknown country, with no family members to support her.

Speaking about his family’s experience, Z said: "as people who fled our country, who have faced discrimination, who have faced all of this difficult stuff and all this trouble on our journey, we expected some rest… But here still, after all this time, I am in one country and my mum is in another country and I do not see any light at the end of the tunnel”



About Refugee Legal Support

Refugee Legal Support is a team of frontline asylum lawyers who assist displaced people with vital legal advice and support. Our British, Greek and other European lawyers run projects in the UK, Greece and Northern France and specialise in asylum claims in Greece, family reunion in the UK and EU and helping people fleeing Afghanistan access safe routes to the UK.

For media enquiries, please contact Efi (she/her) at

About the Family Reunion from Europe Project

The Family Reunion from Europe project focuses on assisting separated families to reunite in the UK by providing legal advice, representation and signposting. The people we work with are based across Europe, Turkey and Libya and wish to reunite with their family in the UK. Find out more about the project here.

In the first year of the project, we provided vital legal advice, representation and signposting to over 350 people to reunite with family in the UK. Our experience of the EU’s Dublin

Regulations enabled us to identify cases caught in the transition following Brexit. We worked alongside barristers and solicitors to raise public law challenges against unlawful decisions to keep families apart.

For any referrals to the project, please contact

The full report can be found here:

Family reunion from Europe post-Brexit - Final version (no N) (1)
Download PDF • 639KB


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