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Bishop of Durham backs Bill to reunite families by parent-sponsoring

15 July 2022

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THE Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, spoke in support of the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill during its Second Reading in the House of Lords last Friday.

The Bill, a Private Member’s Bill sponsored by the Liberal Democrat Baroness Ludford, is designed to enable child refugees to sponsor their parents and siblings.

“Family reunification is often a neglected safe and legal route,” Bishop Butler said. “Those who have been forced apart from family members, due to persecution, war, and other factors, should be able to rebuild their lives with their loved ones when they have been granted protection as a refugee.”

He wanted to focus on the right of children to be reunited with their families.

“Currently, we have the situation where we decide to layer more trauma on a child by expecting them to grow up separated from their parents and be placed in state care.”

He told the story of Bibi, who was evacuated from Afghanistan last summer. “She is now 18, and has been caring for her younger siblings, aged 16 and eight, alone in the UK since becoming separated from their parents in the crush outside Kabul airport. She is terrified for her parents, who have been questioned and harassed by the Taliban.”

Bibi had had to grow up fast, caring for her two younger siblings alone, Bishop Butler said. He quoted her own words: “In the chaos we lost our parents — my brother was holding my dad’s hand; my sister held my mum’s hand. At the airport, the army were using tear gas; so we couldn’t see each other — it was terrifying. . .

“It’s hard living with such uncertainty; we don’t know when we will get a house to live in, and if our mum and dad will be able to come and live in it with us. . . My sister needs her mother; I am not her mother. We don’t have another choice. We need them to come here.”

This was an intolerable situation, Bishop Butler said, that had occurred through no fault of either the parents or their children. “Without an expansion of family-reunion rights for children, families will remain separated, and those who are here, while safe, will remain unable to move forward with their lives.”

Bishop Butler finished his speech with a Bible reference. “Often, when reviewing legislation, I keep in mind the verse from the Book of Micah: ‘God has told you what is good, to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.’

“This can be broadly interpreted as, ‘How can we be and do better?’ This Bill proposes a way to do this in the interests of the child, and I urge the Government to consider its proposals carefully.”

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