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Communities are the drivers for inclusive and integrated societies. Examples across the world have demonstrated that more inclusive communities have significant benefits, economically, socially and culturally.

Bristol is a global city with 16% of the population born outside the UK. Over 91 languages are spoken on our Bristol streets. It's a great city, but can also be a fractured city with different communities living parallel lives. Register here and join us for a facilitated discussion about inclusion and integration where migrants, refugees and Bristol's host communities share their experience and voice what it means to them and their community.
London — A Sudanese, a Sri Lankan and a Venezuelan sit around a table in a light and airy loft in a trendy section of London. This may sound like an opening of a bad joke, but it is actually an inspiring story of refugees helping refugees.

The three are computer programmers, each with his own story about where he came from and how he managed to get to where he is now. What they share is an almost tangible drive to help other refugees still looking to make their place.

Germán is one of the founders of Inclusive Labs, a coding organization employing refugees. He is spearheading the development of a digital platform identifying the skillsets of Syrian refugees just before they resettle in four European countries. As one component of the LINK IT project run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), this online platform produces physical skills profiles, similar to a basic CV, that the refugees can use to assist them in finding a job.

“There are many social projects out there creating impact, which is great. But many of these in the tech industry are under-represented by the very group they are meaning to help,” says 38-year-old Germán, from Venezuela.

By employing migrant and refugee programmers, this is exactly what the three programmers and IOM’s LINK IT project has overcome. “When I left Venezuela, it was relatively stable. I wanted to study in Europe, so I went to school in Germany and then in the UK. Now the situation has dramatically changed in my home country,” Germán continued.

Thirty-seven-year-old Raj originally came to the UK for a Master’s degree in Computer Mathematics and stayed for his Doctorate in Mathematics after which he returned to Sri Lanka to work. But, when tensions rose again, he feared the worst so he returned to the UK and officially began the asylum process.
“Bills piled up as I waited through the asylum process. When I finally received refugee status, I felt relief… until then I couldn’t find work here because I had no UK experience,” remembers Raj.

Eventually, Raj found his niche with Inclusive Lab as he visualizes the data from the LINK IT skills profiling platform to produce research and analysis for the project. This means that national and local governments will be able to better understand the current skillsets refugees offer and what can be done to encourage greater labour market participation, thus boosting economies.

“I am a refugee identifying the skills of other refugees. They have the same need as I once did,” says Raj.

Then there is Ameer, a 26-year-old refugee from Sudan who is also one of the web developers working with Inclusive Labs. “I feel so blessed to have found this community with Inclusive labs. It’s more like a family. It taught me a lot of skills, especially soft skills like talking to people,” says Ameer.

As the three continue to build and maintain the LINK IT platform, it is obvious to see the pride in their work. “The use of modern Java script, the technology, the quality of data we produce and the fact that it is done by refugees, this is really incredible,” says Germán.

“To continue on the path that we are walking. This is my dream. I want to keep expanding the project as a genuine example of inclusivity and diversity,” says Germán, with the other two nodding in agreement.

IOM’s 18-month LINK IT project is piloting a skills profiling tool for Syrian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey who are being resettled to the UK, Germany, Portugal or Romania. The project runs alongside the regular pre-departure orientation.

Co-funded by the EU, the project also provides post-arrival orientation and training activities once refugees have arrived, helps prepare local governments and employers to receive resettled refugees, dispels myths and provides a channel to share best practices in the larger European context.

The LINK IT programme is one part of IOM’s work to encourage greater labour market participation by migrants and refugees living in the United Kingdom. In the UK, IOM has teamed up with UNHCR, Business in the Community (BITC), the UK Home Office and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to launch a guide for UK businesses interested in employing refugees.

You can access the Employer Handbook here.
Companies can take simple steps to employ more refugees and enable them to better integrate in the UK and contribute to economy

London – Refugees are underrepresented in the UK workforce and a great opportunity for them to contribute to growth and better integrate in the country is being missed, according to new guidelines released today by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Business in the Community (BITC) and UK Government.

Tapping Potential: Guidelines to Help UK Businesses Employ Refugees sets out simple steps that companies can take to enable refugees to more seamlessly enter the workforce and build their skills, benefiting companies and the national economy.

“More inclusive communities and workforces frequently report increased socioeconomic benefits,” said Dipti Pardeshi, IOM Chief of Mission in the UK. “It’s not only about refugees learning about life here in Britain. To have inclusive societies and workforces, employers can also make strides to better understand refugees and identify beneficial employment opportunities, both for companies and refugees themselves.”

Refugees want to become self-supporting and contribute to their new communities. They are, however, often hampered by poor understanding of language and business practices, non-recognition of their qualifications, and sometimes the impact of their experiences before reaching safety in the UK. There are measures that can be taken to support refugees into employment. These include: adapting recruitment and interview processes to put refugees at ease; recognizing experience and qualifications from abroad; offering integrated English language workplace training; ‘buddying’ and training in workplace culture; ensuring equal progression opportunities for part-time and flexible workers; and creating apprenticeships, traineeships or voluntary schemes to allow refugees to add skills and qualifications, or adapt their experience to new sectors.

“There is huge capacity for refugees to contribute to the UK economy, either by better leveraging the skills they already have or helping them add new skills,” said Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, UNHCR’s UK Representative. “There really is untapped potential here that could be a boon for the local economy, and at the same time a powerful vehicle for better integration.”

UNHCR estimates there are 120,000 refugees in the UK. Refugees have the right to work here, and doing so helps them build self-reliance and contribute to the economy. They represent a range of nationalities and backgrounds that could diversify business culture and attract new talent. Yet they are struggling to enter and progress in the labour market. According to a recent study, the UK unemployment rate of people who originally came to the UK as refugees is 18 per cent, three times that of the UK-born population. Meanwhile, UK employers are struggling to fill roles, particularly entry-level jobs. Yet many refugees are also ready to take on skilled roles; almost half held qualifications before coming to the UK, and many have previous experience as professionals.

Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said: “The UK is committed to supporting refugees as they rebuild their lives here, including with opportunities in the workplace. Employing refugees can bring great benefits to businesses, individuals and communities. These practical guidelines highlight the crucial role for the private sector, in partnership with Government and others, in helping refugees across the country find work.”

Minister of State for Employment Alok Sharma added: “Employers are missing out on a pool of untapped talent by potentially ruling out opening work opportunities to those who have been granted refugee status in the UK. Part of creating an inclusive society is ensuring everyone has equal access to work, which is why the Government is committed to supporting disadvantaged groups into employment. As the UK’s workforce continues to diversify, more businesses are recognizing the value it brings and these guidelines will help fuel our record employment.”

Companies report that employing refugees has a positive impact on their own workforces, including better cultural awareness and diversity, reduction of unconscious bias and the addition of new skills and thinking. This comes as more citizens are looking to businesses to act as forces for positive change in the community.

Nicola Inge, BITC’s Employment Campaign Director, said: “Responsible businesses are already offering refugee-friendly employment through preparing refugees for the workplace, removing barriers in recruitment and providing an inclusive environment to employees. These new guidelines will help even more employers to make practical changes and discover the benefits of employing refugees – whether it’s meeting talent shortages, improving employee engagement or increasing diversity.”

The release provides case-studies from employers that have initiated programmes to clear the path for refugees into employment. Waitrose & Partners, the retailer, is offering work placements to resettled Syrian refugees in partnership with BITC’s Ready for Work programme. It gives participants training to prepare for the workplace, followed by a two-week work placement and post-placement support. Grant Thornton, the professional services firm, is working with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales to explore how they can support individuals with accountancy qualifications not currently recognized in the UK. The furniture group IKEA has funded 122 refugees to receive employability support from Breaking Barriers; so far 30 refugees have gained employment at stores across London.

John Pettigrew, National Grid CEO, said: “We recognize the added value that refugees bring to our company through their wealth of expertise and skills, which ensure we have the best minds in the world to meet the needs of our customers and bill payers. Integrating more refugees into the UK workforce is not only the right thing to do, it makes business sense. Increasing refugee employment means the UK not only gains the additional economic benefits of their work but improved community cohesion too.”

The partners who drew up the Guidelines are working with the Refugee Employment Network, a recently established umbrella group of organizations supporting refugees into work.

About the Guidelines
The Guidelines were drawn up by IOM, UNHCR, BITC, the Home Office and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). They were developed in late 2018 and 2019. As well as offering tips to foster employment and prepare companies to hire refugees, they provide guidance to employers on the rules and regulations covering employing refugees, and their right to work. The release provides links to private partnerships and NGOs working in the area as well as an annex on immigration status and work entitlements. It also references a 10-point Action Plan from UNHCR and the OECD from regional dialogues with employers to inspire policy action and increase coordination among employers, governments, civil society actors and refugees to help society make the most of refugees’ skills and experience. The document will be distributed to employers across the UK and made available on the websites of the organizers.

The Refugee Employment Network was established in 2018 and has a membership of over 80 refugee integration support organizations across the UK. Their membership supports refugees in the UK to be able to access appropriate, fulfilling, paid employment or self-employment. They also work to set best practice guidelines and offer support to organizations to attain these standards. UNHCR is hosting a launch event in Canary Wharf London on May 2, 2019.

Media interested in attending should contact

For more information please contact:
IOM: Abby Dwommoh, Email:, Tel: 020 7811 6060
UNHCR: Matthew Saltmarsh, Email:, Tel: 07880 230 985
BITC: Cathy Beveridge, Email:, Tel: 020 7566 6634

Women across the world face disparities based upon their gender. In the migration context, this is particularly applicable. Despite the fact that women migrate as much as men, oftentimes, their skills contributions and needs are overlooked. Nearly half of the estimated 260 million migrants worldwide are women, who are often at greater risk for exploitation, abuse and violence.

A more gendered approach can better address systemic barriers for migrant women and girls. With this, IOM held a seminar in London entitled “Women and Migration: Implementing international frameworks for empowerment of migrant women and girls” on 19 March 2019 to mark International Women’s Day.

The seminar examined the role and relevance of the Agenda 2030 and the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) to stimulate new thinking and discussion on how to make the implementation of such frameworks more gender-responsive and contribute to gender equality.
Academia, civil society and DFID panellists explored innovative approaches to ensuring implementation of such frameworks adequately addresses the specific challenges faced by migrant women and girls.
Professor Nicola Piper from Queen Mary University in London highlighted: “Although the SDGs and the Global Compact do place women on the agenda, we should not limit our focus to counter trafficking programmes."
Thomas Green, Global Compact for Migration Lead at the UK Department for International Development (DFID) emphasised the role and the potential of the GCM in further advancing gender equality and provided examples of how DIFD projects around the globe support this process.

Civil society was represented by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants’ (JCWI) Campaign Officer Mary Atkinson and Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) Director Michelle LeVoy. Both speakers highlighted the continued challenges facing migrant women, especially undocumented ones. Discussions explored how the implementation of international frameworks must ensure marginalised groups have access to justice. The issue of firewalls also came out strongly as its implementation is essential in protecting migrant women from abuse or discrimination especially when it comes of access to health services.

The seminar concluded by recognizing the significant strides the international community has taken on cooperation on international migration through the adoption of international frameworks such as the GCM and Agenda 2030. However, more can be done to address the implementation to eliminate violence against women and girls, trafficking and exploitation and addressing and reducing vulnerabilities in migration. Facilitating fair and ethical recruitment, ensuring safe and decent work for all and recognising and valuing unpaid care and domestic workers are also priorities for both international agendas.

Singing Our Lives 2018

This summer, music will unite refugees, migrants and British choir members for the Singing Our Lives (SOL) concert showcasing original music that celebrates the strength and resilience of the refugees and migrants, as the finale to Refugee Week 2018.

The concert marks the culmination of a unique creative process bringing together five amateur choirs and professional musicians through a series of workshops aimed at fostering unity among the diverse groups. The concert is the final apogee in a process that explored the themes of justice, changing seasons, and the cultural adjustment process, in addition to hearing real-life accounts from choir members. For some, this was their first interaction with refugees or asylum-seekers.

WHAT Singing Our Lives concert
WHEN Sunday 1st July 2018 at 18:00
WHERE Milton Court Concert Hall, Barbican, London
With over 8.8 million migrants and refugees living in the UK, according to IOM’s Migration Data Portal, active inclusion can reduce feelings of isolation and increase the contribution to British communities.

When migrants, refugees and communities come together and learn from each other - as they do for Singing Our Lives - this is the true essence of integration,” said Dipti Pardeshi, IOM UK Chief of Mission.

Over 200 performers will participate in the event at Milton Court, hosted by Together Productions, in partnership with IOM, Freedom from Torture, the Royal Opera House, Improbable, and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

Singing Our Lives combines opera, classical, popular and electronic genres with music from around the globe and performed by the Mixed Up Chorus, the Royal Opera House Thurrock Community Chorus, and the Sing for Freedom Choir, and Guildhall School musicians, Woven Gold and Stile Antico.

If you would like to attend, please click on the link to purchase a ticket.

By Patrick Burland
Recent shocking video footage of a slave auction in Libya brought renewed attention to the global scourge of human trafficking and modern slavery. Given its hidden nature, estimates vary enormously but there are reported to be millions of people affected. Since 1994, IOM has supported over 70,000 trafficked persons around the world. Despite considerable sympathy and concern from the public for the victims, little attention is given to how states identify and support them after they have escaped exploitation and abuse.

In the United Kingdom, potential victims of trafficking and modern slavery are identified and supported through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). In October 2017, the UK government announced changes to the National Referral Mechanism to ‘radically improve the identification and support for victims of human trafficking and modern slavery.’ Welcome changes are being made in three critical areas: identifying victims, support for child victims, and the length of time that support is provided. Reforms in these areas are positive steps forward, but characterising them as ‘radical’ should be questioned as much more can be done.

Figures released this week show that 5,145 people were referred to the NRM as potential victims of trafficking in 2017, this was a 35% increase on the 2016 total. This enormous increase makes improving the identification and support for those referred to the NRM even more important and urgent.

The first significant change is for a new expert body to be created in the Home Office to decide whether people are victims of human trafficking or slavery. This means that UK Visas and Immigration, a division of the Home Office with responsibility for deciding who has the right to stay in the country, will no longer make decisions on trafficking cases. The announcement explains that this will ‘separate’ decisions ‘from the immigration system.’ This comes in response to longstanding concerns about a correlation between a person’s immigration status and the likelihood of them being conclusively identified as a victim of trafficking or slavery. For example, available data on decisions for people referred into the NRM in 2015 show 90% of people from Poland and 85% from Romania, nationalities with a right to residency in the UK, were formally identified as victims of trafficking or slavery compared with 37% of people from Nigeria and 30% of people from Albania, nationalities who do not. This indicates a potential bias against recognising people as victims of trafficking if they are from countries where their right to residency in the UK is not pre-established.

The announcement shows that the government acknowledges that decisions on trafficking and slavery should be separated from the immigration system. However, while UK Visas and Immigration will no longer make the decisions, the potential for conflicts of interest remains as they will continue to be made by staff within the Home Office; the government department responsible for all aspects of immigration control. The most effective way for the UK government to build an effective firewall between victim identification and immigration concerns is to move this process outside of the Home Office.

Child victims are a concern as children comprised more than 40% of the referrals into the NRM in 2017. The government has said the changes will make the process as ‘child friendly as possible.’ One such change is the introduction of Independent Child Trafficking Advocates who will be tasked to act in the best interests of the child across the country. A government evaluation of a one-year trial of the service found that the advocates helped build trust with children and improved decision making on their cases.

Changes to improve trust and decision making are welcome, but what is still missing is the provision of indispensable specialist support for trafficked children. Trafficked adults can access specialist support, but children – who are the most vulnerable and have the greatest support needs – are left out. IOM recently supported a letter written by the child trafficking charity ECPAT to the Home Secretary which called for specialist support to be provided to trafficked children in the UK. The idea that child victims should be able to access specialist support should not be seen as a radical proposal; it’s just good practice.

The third important reform is that government has announced plans to increase support for victims to ‘at least 90 days.’ Increasing the length of time that support is provided is clearly an improvement. However, the increase to 90 days should be seen in the context of the average of 134 days it took for a person to receive a final conclusive decision on whether they were a victim of trafficking or slavery in 2016.

If trained professionals cannot decide whether a person has been a victim of trafficking or slavery within 45 or 90 days, how can this be enough time for people to recover? A truly radical change to increase support is offered by the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill which would provide victims of trafficking or slavery access to support for 12 months. IOM supports this bill.

Changes to how the UK government responds to identifying and supporting victims of trafficking and slavery have been long-awaited. A review of the NRM in November 2014 by the Home Office acknowledged, ‘Many level criticism at the current system and we have found that it does need to change.’ Three years later, the government has announced a series of modest changes to the system. The proposed reforms should go further in improving support and identification for victims if the UK government wants to live up to its claims of leading the world in responding to modern slavery and human trafficking and of making radical reform to the NRM.

One-hundred years ago, women were first granted the right to vote in the UK. That same year, women also won the right to be elected into the UK Parliament. It was a year that epitomized a new chapter for women’s integration in a story that remains unfinished.

Today, on International Women’s Day, we pay homage to all those who work tirelessly to combat injustices they face based solely on their gender. The UN Migration Agency (IOM), stands with each person who demonstrates the courage and resilience to pave the way for women’s rights and empowerment.

As they did a century ago, women are once again joining voices to foster change today and for future generations. However, one segment of society is often underrepresented and unheard in this symphony for change: migrant women.

Migrant women face the same disparities all women confront, but may also experience additional challenges. Our gender influences our motivations, approaches and how we balance life through the prescribed boxes of cultural expectations. This factors into how each of us contributes to our family, work, and community. Women also continue to face gender-based violence, harassment and exploitation, especially along migratory routes, signifying deeply-rooted power imbalances that we must all condemn.

Migrant women often must also overcome language barriers, cultural expectations, stereotypes, and knowing how to access resources. The ability to do this can significantly affect a person’s contribution to and integration within a community.

Over the last decade, numerous studies have shown the economic impact of integrated migrants on the British economy. While methodologies and conclusions varied among the studies, one common theme that has emerged is the net benefit that migrants have had on the British economy. Over half (52 percent) of the UK’s 8.8 million migrants are women according to IOM’s Migration Data Portal. The collective force of their potential contribution to our society can only be realised through more active inclusion.

Despite the evidence and potential, migrant women continue to face unique barriers to their full integration into British society. Anecdotal evidence suggests female migrants, including refugees and survivors of human trafficking, are less likely than their male counterparts to actively engage with employers, government and civil society. Causes may vary, but the extent of integration depends upon societal roles, autonomy in decision-making, social biases from migrant and local populations, and knowledge about information access points. Consequently, female migrants may experience social isolation and reduced opportunities for language learning, education and employment which simply reinforces the marginalization.

Just as we have seen the potential of British women realized over the last century, the potential of migrant women in the UK is also great. Many migrant women have made significant social impacts, like Melody, a social entrepreneur from Tehran who was named “New European Woman Influencer” by the European Parliament in June 2015.

“School years were the hardest years of my life in England. I was lonely and felt misunderstood. I channelled my energy into the UK community and found a way to make a difference in the country and give back,” she said.

Migrant women like Melody play an essential role in community and family life. For example, women are more likely take on more care-related responsibilities in the family, whether their own or for work. A recent study found that migrants working in the adult social care sector contribute 4.4 billion pounds to the English economy annually. The vast majority of these social care workers are migrant women.

So why do some migrant women flourish, while others are marginalized? Some argue that it is the level of integration support provided, either through local authorities or the community. Although some localised integration strategies do exist in the UK, there is currently no national strategy. This reduces the experiences and potential contribution of migrants or refugees to a geographic lottery to access information about education, housing, healthcare or basic services. A national strategy can serve as a guiding principle for local authorities, promote greater engagement and act as a best practices roadmap.

Integration is not a one-way street. It takes active acknowledgement from both local and migrant communities of the similarities, differences, challenges and benefits diversity can bring. National self-awareness can help formulate sound policies that address the distinct advantages and disadvantages gender plays during the integration process.

Integration works best when there is a national space for reciprocal conversations about backgrounds, expectations and goals. By doing this, we can counter migrant marginalization, especially for women, and create equal opportunities to contribute to the economy and the community. Through our work, IOM supports those strategies that bring a more balanced world for all of us: women, men, children, migrants and non-migrants. Now is the time to act.

Opinion piece by Abby Dwommoh, first published by the Thomson Reuters Foundation

Abby Dwommoh is the Public Information Officer and Spokesperson for IOM – the UN Migration Agency in London. She joined IOM in 2015 in the Turkey office, at the height of the Mediterranean Crisis. Prior to joining IOM, Abby served in the U.S. Foreign Service in Morocco, Nigeria and France.
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