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Photo: UK Pre-departure orientation in Istanbul. © IOM

The United Kingdom is more than halfway towards meeting its commitment to resettle 20,000 people by 2020 through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS), according to new figures revealed yesterday (22/10).

The latest quarterly Home Office immigration statistics show that 10,538 refugees have been resettled under the VPRS – one of the largest global resettlement programmes – since it began.

The VPRS is just one of the ways in which the UK is helping to resettle refugees. In 2017, a total of 6,212 people were resettled in the UK – a 19 per cent increase from 2016 – with 4,832 of these people coming through the VPRS. Some 539 people arrived under the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme (VCRS), which will resettle up to 3,000 at-risk children and their families from the Middle East and North Africa region by 2020. The latest figures take the total number of children that the UK has provided asylum or an alternative form of protection to since the start of 2010 to 28,000.

Earlier this week, UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd visited a refugee camp in Lebanon, meeting families who have fled the war in Syria and speaking to officials from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) who are working closely with the Home Office to resettle families to the UK.

“As a country we can be proud that we are over half way towards honouring our commitment of resettling 20,000 of the most vulnerable refugees who have fled Syria by 2020 so they can rebuild their lives here in safety,” Rudd said. “Nearly half are children and more people are arriving every month.”

“This week I went to Lebanon to see for myself the human impact of the Syrian conflict and talk to refugees about the challenges they face. I met a family who is due to be resettled in the UK and heard first-hand how important the resettlement scheme is and how it helps individuals, who have fled danger and conflict, to rebuild their lives. We are welcoming and supporting some of the most vulnerable refugees and I am grateful to all of the local authorities, charities and other organizations that have made it possible,” the Home Secretary added.

The VPRS is a joint scheme between the Home Office, the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

The UK works closely with UNHCR; IOM, the UN Migration Agency; and partners on the VPRS to provide life-saving solutions for the refugees most in need of protection, including people requiring urgent medical treatment, survivors of violence and torture, and women and children at risk.

“The UK has embarked on an impressive upscaling of the VPRS in a short period, setting in place structures to welcome highly vulnerable refugees and allowing them to gradually stand on their own feet again,” said UNHCR’s UK Representative Gonzalo Vargas Llosa.

“Collaboration between the central Government, local and devolved authorities and service providers has been commendable. I’ve been up and down the country meeting refugee families and local communities, and the strong support for this programme and refugee integration generally is something the UK should be proud of.”

IOM facilitates pre-departure health assessments, cultural orientation and travel for refugees going to the UK. IOM also supports national and local governments to develop integration programmes as part of a holistic migration management strategy.

“The UK has achieved a significant milestone for the VPRS by resettling over half of the 20,000 committed to be resettled by 2020,” said IOM UK Chief of Mission Dipti Pardeshi. “The generosity and welcome shown by the UK government and the British people to those resettled is commendable.”

“Today, less than one per cent of refugees worldwide have been resettled and the need continues to be dire. Resettlement cannot be viewed as a one-off effort. Countries must step up to resettle more refugees and to view this as part of a holistic process to help vulnerable refugees rebuild their lives.”

The UK’s resettlement schemes are just some of the ways the Government is supporting vulnerable children and adults who have fled danger and conflict. The UK remains the second largest donor in humanitarian assistance and has pledged £2.46 billion in UK aid to Syria and the neighbouring countries, its largest ever response to a single humanitarian crisis.

“I cannot wait to move to the UK,” says 11-year-old Shahed. Most of her life has been overshadowed by the conflict in Syria. Last week her family arrived at the IOM offices in Beirut, Lebanon for the final preparations to resettle to the UK.

A big smile stretches across her face. She understands that this is an opportunity for a new beginning for her family, and Shahed’s plans are already in full swing.

“I want to study and one day be able to teach Maths, Geography or Philosophy. I also want to help other people.” Shahed and her family will resettle to the UK under the Voluntary Persons Resettlement Scheme that has provided an opportunity for over 10,000 refugees to rebuild their lives since 2015.

Since 2012, across Syria and the region, the UK has provided at least 26 million food rations, 9.8 million relief packages, 10.3 million medical consultations and 8.3 million vaccines.

For more information please contact Abby Dwommoh at IOM UK, Tel: +44 20 7811 6000, email:

The global displacement and refugee crisis has seen a record 65million people displaced from their homes - among them nearly 22.5million refugees - fleeing conflict and persecution. Thousands of vulnerable and desperate people continue to arrive to Europe across the Central Mediterranean. As agencies working closely to this crisis, we know that family is a driving factor in why people risk their lives with smugglers and traffickers to reach the UK and a critical factor in supporting refugee children to successfully rebuild their lives.

The UK can make a vital contribution to children’s safety and well-being in the context of the global refugee crisis by making it easier for them to reach family in the UK via official routes. All children deserve the safety and security of being with their loved ones, yet too few children facing conflict and persecution are being supported to reunite with family members. Family separation creates additional hardship for families who have already experienced many difficulties, and it can result in children risking their lives on desperate and dangerous journeys. We share the Government’s aim of trying to reduce these life-threatening journeys, so we are calling for an improvement in the UK’s Immigration Rules on refugee family reunion.

On the 15th December, Baroness Trafford, Minister of State, Home Office, highlighted the Government’s strong support for the principle of family unity and announced that the Home Office are currently considering a new Resettlement and Asylum Strategy[1] which amongst other areas will make improvements and changes to the UK’s policies on refugee family reunification.

We are calling for the UK Government to:
  • Amend its Immigration Rules on refugee family reunion to better facilitate close family members such as adult siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles who have refugee or humanitarian status to sponsor children in their family to join them in the UK, where this is in the child’s best interests and the relationship between the sponsor and the child is one of dependency[2];
  • Reduce some of the conditions required of non-refugee sponsors who have settled status in the UK or British citizenship, where the child to be sponsored has a protection need;
  • Reinstate legal aid for refugee family reunion cases
The UK’s current Immigration Rules on refugee family reunion are limited
After years of living in countries affected by conflict and persecution, many children have been orphaned or don’t know where their parents are, or have been forced to flee alone – often to avoid risks such as recruitment into armed groups or forced marriage. These children may have grandparents, aunts, uncles, or adult brothers and sisters in the UK who are best placed to care for them. The UK’s current Immigration Rules provide for the right of parents with refugee or humanitarian status to sponsor their under 18-year-old children[3] to join them in the UK[4], and do not provide this right to other family members. For other family members to sponsor a child to join them, there are many extra requirements in the rules, which prove to be real obstacles.

Options for applying outside of the refugee family reunion section of the Immigration Rules are even more limited

There are many requirements that other family members have to fulfil - even when the child to be sponsored is in real danger or has lost their main carer - which rules out most other family members in practice. For example, Rule 319X of Part 8 the Immigration Rules includes requirements such as having no recourse to public funds for maintenance or accommodation, paying an application fee, and proving “serious and compelling family or other considerations which make exclusion of the child undesirable”. Maintenance and accommodation requirements are often difficult to fulfil if a family member has recently been granted refugee status.

Families who fall outside of the UK’s Refugee Family Reunion Rules – including intended sponsors who were recognised as refugees but have since naturalised as British citizens – have to rely on a UK Entry Clearance Officer exercising their discretion to admit a child as an exceptional case outside of the Rules. They exercise this discretion extremely rarely, because:
  • Very few children apply – since they and their families are informed that their cases fall outside of the Rules. Why would families go through a complex process when they are advised from the outset that they don’t have a case?
  • There is no legal aid available for most of these cases, despite their complexity.
  • The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration Report 2016 found that when applications are made, UK Entry Clearance Officers often initially reject them[7] and then the family has to appeal or re-submit their cases, even though the children are still living in danger while waiting for the cases to be resolved. This is very common even in cases that fall within the Rules, and even more difficult for cases that fall outside of them[8]. Relying on Entry Clearance Officer discretion results in inconsistent decisions that leave vulnerable children at risk.

Since 2012 legal aid has not been available for refugee family reunion cases despite the fact that these cases routinely involve difficult procedures. Without legal aid assistance, applicants rarely know what evidence is required, how to collate it and present it, with the consequence that applications are regularly refused and appeals are lost.
This has resulted in long delays, keeping families apart for longer than necessary and often forcing family members in war zones to take repeated risks to cross borders to reach British embassies to overcome procedural errors. Where it may be in a child’s best interests to join their relative(s) in the UK, eg. where the child has lost their parents, or the child has no suitable care and is dependent on a relative in the UK (sibling, uncle, aunt or grandparent), their application should be facilitated.

In January 2017, after many legal hours and significant political intervention, the decision to refuse the visas was reversed, and Hana, Johannas, and Marina were safely united with their uncle and grandparents in the UK. Lawyers confirm that many applications by extended family members are refused, and decision-making is very inconsistent, and often relies on whether a family is lucky enough to obtain pro bono legal and political interventions.

How will Brexit affect the rights of children to reach relatives with refugee or humanitarian status in the UK?

The EU’s Dublin III Regulation determines which EU state decides a person’s asylum application, and has served in practice as a mechanism for reuniting children with their families within Europe, while the children wait for their asylum applications to be decided. Since there are so few options under the UK’s Immigration Rules, many children have to make it to a European country in order to apply to join their relatives in the UK. The Dublin III Regulation allows children to join close relatives such as grandparents, uncles, aunts and siblings, as well as parents, while they wait for their asylum applications to be decided. As a result of leaving the European Union, the UK’s membership of the Dublin III Regulation is likely to come to an end.

In 2016 applying the Dublin III Regulation criteria, more than 700 children were transferred from other European countries to join family members in the UK. Many of these children were joining relatives who were not their parents. If, post-Brexit, children in similar circumstances will only be able to rely on the UK Immigration Rules, most of them will not fit within the current rules. Their cases are, based on existing practice, unlikely to be accepted by Entry Clearance Officers on a discretionary basis. This situation has the potential to lead to a large increase in unaccompanied children forced to take dangerous journeys with smugglers and traffickers in order to reach their family here.

The recently announced agreement between the UK and French Governments to speed up Dublin III transfers to help children to reach the safety of their family in the UK is very welcome. However, these children should never have had to make dangerous journeys to Europe to reach the safety of their families in the first place. If the UK changes its own Immigration Rules, the UK Government can better facilitate the reunification of separated families and play a role in reducing the number of dangerous journeys and prevent needless and tragic deaths[12]. By allowing children to apply for family reunification more easily from their countries and regions of origin, we will create a safe and legal route for vulnerable children to reach the UK.

We are calling for the UK Government to:
  • Amend its Immigration Rules on refugee family reunion to better facilitate close family members such as adult siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles who have refugee or humanitarian status to sponsor children in their family to join them in the UK, where this is in the child’s best interests and the relationship between the sponsor and the child is one of dependency[13];
  • Reduce some of the conditions required of non-refugee sponsors who have settled status in the UK or British citizenship, where the child to be sponsored has a protection need;
  • Reinstate legal aid for refugee family reunion cases


[2] “Dependency” infers a social, emotional or economic relationship or bond.

[3] who is not leading an independent life, is unmarried and is not a civil partner, and has not formed an independent family unit, and was part of the family unit of their parent at the time that their parent left the country of their habitual residence in order to seek asylum – Immigration Rules Part 11, paras 352D and 352FG

[4] Spouses and civil partners with refugee or humanitarian status also have the right under UK Immigration Rules to sponsor their spouses or civil partners to join them in the UK.

[5] Name changed

[6] Name changed


[8] Unicef UK, The Refuge of Family,

[9] Name changed

[10] Name changed

[11] Name changed

[12] The changes in the Immigration Rules that we are proposing would enable a child to take on the leave status of their UK relative, who has refugee or humanitarian status, or has settled status or British citizenship. Under the Dublin III Regulation children are currently able to join their relatives in the UK who are still asylum-seekers. We are not proposing that the UK Immigration Rules should be extended to included sponsorship applications by asylum-seekers, as the children joining them would remain in an uncertain legal status in that case. This gap for children who only have asylum-seeking relatives to join should be addressed via bilateral agreements with other EU states or via an arrangement for the UK to retain some aspects of the Dublin III Regulation arrangements for receiving unaccompanied children.

[13] “Dependency” infers a social, emotional or economic relationship or bond.

Gaps in data covering refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and internally displaced populations are endangering the lives and wellbeing of millions of children on the move, warned five UN and partner agencies today. In ‘A call to action: Protecting children on the move starts with better data’, UNICEF, UNHCR, IOM, Eurostat and OECD together show how crucial data are to understanding the patterns of global migration and developing policies to support vulnerable groups like children.

The Call to Action confirms alarming holes in the availability, reliability, timeliness and accessibility of data and evidence that are essential for understanding how migration and forcible displacement affect children and their families. For example:
  • There is recorded information on age for just 56 per cent of the refugee population under UNHCR’s mandate;
  • Only 20 per cent of countries or territories with data on conflict-related internally displaced persons (IDP) break it down by age;
  • Nearly a quarter of countries and territories do not have age disaggregated data on migrants, including 43 per cent of countries and territories in Africa; and
  • Lack of information on migrant and displaced children deprives the affected children of protection and services they need.

“Information gaps fundamentally undermine our ability to help children,” said Laurence Chandy, UNICEF Director for the Division of Data, Research and Policy. “Migrant children, particularly those who migrate alone, are often easy targets for those who would do them harm. We can’t keep children safe and provide them with lifesaving services, both in transit and at their destination, if we don’t know who they are, where they are or what they need. We urge Member States to fill these gaps with reliable disaggregated data and to improve cooperation so that data is shared and comparable.”

“Many refugee children have experienced or witnessed appalling violence and suffering in their countries of origin and sometimes also during their flight in search of protection and security. They need and deserve care and protection but in order to provide this, we need data on their identity and needs. In no area is coordination on data and strengthening capacity more important than for children, especially the most vulnerable,” said Volker Türk, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.

“We need reliable and better data on child migrants to protect them and guarantee their best interests. Data disaggregation by age, sex and origin can inform policymakers of the real needs of child migrants. This will ensure that no child is left behind and that they are not exploited. All migrant children are entitled to care and protection regardless of their migratory status,” said IOM Director General William Lacy Swing.

“Time is of the essence when it comes to integration into education,” said OECD Director for Employment Labour and Social Affairs Stefano Scarpetta. “Success or failure at this vulnerable age can have lifelong labour market consequences. Only with a comprehensive knowledge – backed up by appropriate data – can we identify and address the needs of these children, better protect them and build upon their skills and capabilities as they make their way through the school system and into the labour market.”

In many countries, available national data do not include information on migrants’ and refugees’ age, sex and origin, or if they travel unaccompanied or with their families. Differing criteria for age categories and for recoding data make disaggregation extremely challenging.
This makes it very difficult to estimate accurately how many children are on the move worldwide. Data on children moving undocumented across borders, those displaced or migrating internally, or children left behind by migrant parents, are even scarcer.

While much of global migration is positive, with children and their families moving voluntarily and safely, the experience for millions of children is neither voluntary nor safe, but fraught with risk and danger. Children who do not have access to safe and regular migration pathways often turn to irregular and dangerous routes, putting them at risk of violence, abuse and exploitation. Many children lose their lives taking perilous informal migration routes – drowned at sea or lost in the desert – but their deaths regularly go unreported and uncounted.

In 2016, over 12 million children around the world were living as refugees or asylum seekers, while an estimated 23 million children were living in internal displacement – 16 million as a result of conflict and 7 million due to natural disasters. Yet the true number of children driven from their homes remains unknown and is apt to be significantly higher than the estimate because of gaps in reporting and data.

In the absence of reliable data, the risks and vulnerabilities facing children on the move remain hidden and unaddressed. In some contexts, children who cross borders irregularly may be held in detention alongside adults or prevented from accessing services that are essential for their healthy development, including education and healthcare. Even in high income countries like, the number of refugee and migrant children out of school is unknown because it is not counted.

The need for better data collection and analysis are key features of the related but distinct Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees currently being developed for adoption in 2018. While there are ongoing efforts to strengthen data collection and analysis at both the global and country levels, far more needs to be done. As Member States work towards finalizing these two agreements, the five agencies and partners urge them to address the evidence gaps and include the rights, protection and wellbeing of children as central commitments in the final texts. If these gaps are not addressed, it will be impossible to implement and monitor the Compacts and the impact they could have for children on the move.

Note to editors:
UNICEF, UNHCR, IOM, Eurostat and OECD urge Member States to address the data and evidence gaps pertaining to children on the move, and include the following child-specific considerations in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees:
Disaggregate data by age and sex;
Cover key issues relating to children affected by migration and displacement;
Make better use of existing data, and share it;
Coordinate data efforts within countries and across borders;
Make special efforts to collect and analyse data on children.

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. For more information about UNICEF and its work for children visit

For more information, please contact:
Christopher Tidey, UNICEF New York, , +1 917 340 3017
Jorge Galindo, IOM HQ, , +41 22 7179205
Stylia Kampani, IOM GMDAC, , +49 3027877816
Spencer Wilson, OECD, , +33 1 45 24 81 18