The Government has been urged to ensure the rights of unaccompanied child refugees to be reunited with their families by protesters who revealed how some youngsters said they had witnessed horrors including a baby being killed by a people smuggler.
A group of students from Oaklands School in east London, some refugees and human rights workers walked to the Home Office on Wednesday to hand over a 75,000 strong petition demanding child refugees in the UK be with their families.
The law currently allows adult refugees in the UK to sponsor their families to join them here, but children do not have that right.
Amnesty International said the petition is asking the Government to allow child refugees in the UK the right to sponsor their close family, an expansion on who qualifies as family, so that young people who have turned 18 and elderly parents can join their relatives, and a legal aid for refugee family reunion cases.
The human rights group, in collaboration with 52 other refugee organisations, has campaigned on the issue of child refugees since 2017.
The march organised by Families Together Coalition, of which Amnesty is a member, came after MPs voted against a Lords amendment to the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill that would have guaranteed refugee children to join relatives in the UK after Brexit.
Campaign manager at Amnesty International UK, Tom Davies, 45, said that the “cruel and restrictive rules” needed to be removed and that child refugees needed to be made a “priority”.
He said: “Here in the UK there are many vulnerable children who need to be with their families and being separated from them is not a good thing and the Government is doing that intentionally.”
Mr Davies revealed the horrors endured by some refugees including a Sudanese teenager called Habib, who fled his country and sought refuge in the UK after being arrested over his father’s political campaigning.
After being “tortured” he left for Libya on a boat where he claimed to have witnessed the murder of a baby by a smuggler, Mr Davies said.
“He was then on a boat to come to Europe and it sank and he saw people drown.
“Horrific, horrific experiences both in his home country and on his journey to the UK and then to be separated from his loved ones because of these rules is beyond cruel,” Mr Davies said.
SNP MP Angus MacNeil, who marched with the students, told the PA news agency: “In nearly all countries in Europe children have the same rights of family reunion as adults do.
“Bizarrely in the UK doesn’t do that and its been resisting to, the Tory Government has been resisting to give children the same rights and have their families with them.
“It’s not a big ask actually,” he added.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Our family reunion policy allows a partner and children under 18 – of those granted protection in the UK – to join them here if they formed part of the family before they fled their country.
“Our current policy does not allow child refugees to sponsor their parents for safeguarding reasons.”