Refugee Family Reunion Routes: Sudan

– in the House of Commons am 6:03 pm ar 29 Tachwedd 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Scott Mann.)

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Scottish National Party, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East 6:19, 29 Tachwedd 2023

I am grateful to have the opportunity to draw the House’s attention to the catastrophic situation in Sudan and to highlight the circumstances of the people in danger there, some of whom have family members recognised as refugees here in the United Kingdom. I hope to take this time to illustrate how the UK’s family reunion rules make it incredibly difficult for those individuals—most of them children—to join their family members here. Finally, I want to ask the Government to think again about how they apply the family reunion rules, given the horrendous circumstances that those individuals face, and to urge the Minister and his colleagues to think about a new approach to facilitate and support reunion with family members here rather than hindering it, as seems to be the case in too many instances.

I turn, first, to the circumstances in Sudan. What is unfolding there has been described by the United Nations as one of the

“worst humanitarian nightmares in recent history.”

Since fighting broke out between the Sudanese armed forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, more than 9,000 have been killed. Horrific reports of rape and sexual violence continue to emerge, and clashes are increasingly along ethnic lines, particularly in Darfur. Every hour children are killed, injured or abducted. Many hospitals have had to suspend operations; others have been bombed or turned into military bases.

Last month, the Minister for Africa said that the violence there bore

“all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing”.

The fighting that commenced in mid-April has led to more than 1 million people fleeing Sudan altogether to neighbouring Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. Meanwhile, more than 5 million have been forced from their homes, internally displaced within Sudan. Among those displaced are almost 1.5 million refugees and asylum seekers from other countries, who had already had to flee persecution in their home territories to Sudan, particularly Eritrean nationals. More than 6 million people are on the edge of famine, and more than 20 million face acute food insecurity. More than 4 million women and girls face the risk of gender-based violence, with limited or no access to protection services and support.

Against that background, I have had the pleasure of working with the Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex and London—RAMFEL—which has a number of refugee clients here in the UK with family members stuck in Sudan who want to get here. Altogether, RAMFEL represents 14 individuals—a tiny sample of that country—who have been struggling to leave Sudan to join their family here. Seven months on from the start of the most recent conflict, only two have made it here so far. Of those two, one—a child—was successful only after an appeal. Of the 12 who have not yet made it here, all are children under 18. Ten are Eritrean, and two are Sudanese. Of those 12, eight are still in Sudan itself—children in a war zone, facing extreme danger. The other four have made it to neighbouring countries but, as we will see, they are not out of danger yet.

To all reasonable observers, given the circumstances of those children, reunion with their family members in the United Kingdom must be appropriate and the right thing to do. Is it not precisely for such situations that we have family reunion policies at all? Family reunion would provide a safe legal route to the UK, allowing both the individuals here and those coming here to get on with rebuilding their lives. It would remove any temptation to seek assistance from people smugglers—breaking the business model, to borrow that expression. Most fundamentally, those children would be safe.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I commend Stuart C. McDonald on securing this debate—that constituency is quite a mouthful, and I hope I pronounced it right. He is at the fore in addressing this issue. In Sudan, 4.3 million people have been displaced, and 1.1 million are living in five neighbouring countries. The British Red Cross has been instrumental in reuniting more than 10,000 displaced people and their families. It can offer support with visa applications if the individual is based in London, Liverpool, Preston or Plymouth, according to its website. Does he agree that it is important to have visa assistance hubs throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with at least one for the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Scottish National Party, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East

The hon. Gentleman makes perfect sense. Organisations such as the Red Cross and RAMFEL, which I have been working with on this topic, are fantastic. The more support we can give them and people across the United Kingdom, the better.

These are precisely the circumstances in which we should have refugee family reunion rules. I regret to report that, unfortunately, the rules and processes are making it harder for these people than it should be. In particular, while UK rules are pretty generous for spouses, partners and children—I acknowledge that—they are more restrictive for other categories of relative, including siblings. Most of the children I am talking about today have lost their parents, and it is an older sibling here in the UK that they are seeking to join.

Furthermore, the rules require enrolment of biometric information before an application will even be looked at. That means the children cannot even get over the starting line, because the visa application centre in Sudan, understandably, had to close after the outbreak of the conflict. If there is no way to safely provide biometric information, surely we should stop asking for it in advance?

I will set out precisely how the application of the family reunion rules and procedures has impacted on the children. I am using pseudonyms to protect the identity of individuals. Sixteen-year-old Adila fled to Sudan to escape persecution in Eritrea, including forced conscription into the army. As a lone 16-year-old girl in a war zone, she clearly faces significant risks. She has already been displaced from Khartoum to a city in eastern Sudan and is struggling severely with her mental health. She seeks family reunion with her older brother, who is a recognised refugee here in the UK. However, hers is one of a number of cases that cannot get off the ground because the Home Office insists she attends a visa application centre to enrol biometric information. The centre in Sudan is closed, so that would mean having to make an irregular and dangerous journey to a neighbouring country to do it there.

I acknowledge that the Home Office does consider applications to defer enrolment of biometric information until the person either arrives at or is at least en route to the UK, so that the application can proceed. But even a cursory look at the relevant policy document shows that it is only in very few circumstances indeed where the Home Office allows that to happen. When 16-year-old Adila asked to defer enrolment, she was refused that application. The Home Office said she had not proved her identity with reasonable certainty and asserted that having crossed one border irregularly—fleeing Eritrea to get to Sudan—she could obviously manage to do so again.

I do not believe that that is a fair approach to take to a 16-year-old girl in Sudan. Allowance has to be made for the fact that Eritrean refugees in Sudan will almost certainly not be able to produce passports. A degree of latitude is therefore required. The idea that because someone fled over a border in fear of persecution, they can just be called on to make another dangerous and irregular journey is in itself a dangerous idea. It rides a coach and horses through the Home Office’s own policy. It would not be worth the paper it is written on. If an unaccompanied 16-year-old girl in a war zone cannot avail herself of the deferral policy, who on earth can?

Seven of the other individuals are in a similar situation. They cannot apply because they are in Sudan and there is no place to go to enrol their biometric information. Even among those who have made it out of Sudan, similar issues can arise. For example, Fatima, a 15-year-old Eritrean girl, had originally made a family application to join her brother in the UK just prior to the outbreak of the war in Sudan. She had got as far as booking an appointment at the visa application centre in Khartoum. That, of course, had to be cancelled when the centre closed after the outbreak of fighting. Fatima ended up trafficked from Khartoum to South Sudan some weeks after the outbreak of war, and was released only on the payment of a ransom. She clearly remains at severe risk of kidnapping, sexual exploitation and all other manners of harm. There is no visa application centre in South Sudan, but again the Home Office refused to defer biometric enrolment.

RAMFEL asked the Home Office if, as an alternative, mobile biometric enrolment could take place—someone would travel to South Sudan from a regional VAC to take the biometrics there. If required, RAMFEL would offer to pay, but even that reasonable offer was refused. I ask the question again: if those circumstances do not merit the deferral of biometric enrolment or other compromise action, what on earth does?

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

Is that not the problem with the hostile environment? There are no circumstances; they do not want people to come. It does not matter how dreadful the circumstances are that people are living in. It does not matter that this is the country where they have family members who can make them feel at home and welcome, and help them to start to overcome the trauma they have gone through. The Home Office does not want to know. Computer says no. The door is closed.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Scottish National Party, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East

“Computer says no” is pretty close to the bone. The Home Office has a policy on biometric enrolment, and it sticks rigidly to it even when dramatic circumstances such as those persisting in Sudan mean that a different approach should be taken.

The Home Office can take a different approach, and it has done so in certain circumstances. The Minister would not like it if I made a comparison with Ukraine, and I do not want to do so, but I simply point out that, in those incredible circumstances, the Home Office was able to take a different approach. I am not asking for anything remotely approaching what was done in that situation; I am just asking the Home Office to be a little more deft, a wee bit more responsive, and to think about the considerations that should apply for people applying from Sudan.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

I am sure my hon. Friend is aware that there is a big Sudanese community in Glasgow, and I remember a meeting I had with a number of Sudanese people who made that very point about Ukraine. They said, “We want this country to look after Ukrainians. Of course, it has to look after them; they are going through a terrible war and they are being attacked—but so are our families. What is the difference?” Does my hon. Friend understand how important this debate will be to Sudanese people living in this country? At last, somebody is talking about their pain and cares enough to secure a debate in the House of Commons. I know they really appreciate everything he is trying to do.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Scottish National Party, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her remarks, but the tribute should be paid to RAMFEL and the other organisations out there that do amazing work on behalf of the Sudanese community.

There are people who would make a legitimate argument that there should be some sort of equivalence in the treatment of Ukraine and Sudan, but that is not the case I am making tonight. I am simply saying that the Home Office showed in the case of Ukraine that it was willing to apply different rules, or to apply the same rules differently. It was able to be nimble and to respond accordingly to a grave situation. This, too, is a grave situation and there should be some sort of flexibility in the response.

On this point, the solution is pretty obvious: we need a more generous set of exceptions to the rule that requires biometric information be provided in advance. I am not the only one saying that. The House of Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee recently reported on family migration:

“The Home Office should exercise its discretion to lift or delay the requirement to submit biometrics when this would involve travelling in dangerous conditions or outside the applicant’s country of residence. The Home Office should allow biometrics to be completed on arrival in the UK for a wider range of nationalities in crisis situations.”

That seems to be the compassionate and common-sense thing to do. If the Minister is not willing to go as far as the Committee suggests, surely he must see that the application of the rules in the types of circumstances I have described is gravely unsettling and must be revisited in some form.

I turn next to rules in relation to siblings. Even those who ultimately are able to jump through the first administrative hoop are far from guaranteed success in their family reunion application. Existing rules focus on family reunion for spouses and for children under 18. I have spoken in previous debates about various problems with what I regard as the overly restrictive category of relationships that can benefit from family reunion without further tests applying, but today I will focus on siblings.

Given the situation prevailing in Sudan and neighbouring countries, many children find themselves either orphaned or without any contact with their parents. For these kids, their siblings here in the UK are essentially their only remaining family. That said, if a 15-year-old seeks to join their 20-year-old brother here, they must first pay a fee and a health surcharge, unless they are granted a waiver, which adds an additional hurdle. Then, as well as proving their relationship, they must show that there are exceptional circumstances and that the refusal of their application would result in unjustifiably harsh consequences for the applicant.

Meeting those tests can be surprisingly difficult. It often seems that the general country situation, however hellish, will never be enough to make a person’s circumstances—even a child’s circumstances—exceptional enough to overcome that hurdle. A person seems to need to be able to show that their circumstances are exceptional, even compared with other individuals in that country—in that warzone. That is a hugely difficult prospect, likely requiring legal advice and lawyers, and it is difficult to obtain the necessary evidence.

Surely the Home Office can be more responsive to the situation on the ground in Sudan. At the very least, could we not have clear guidance that any child living unaccompanied in Sudan should be treated as meeting the necessary tests of exceptionality and harsh consequences, and therefore should, in principle, be allowed to be reunited with a UK-based sibling? Surely that is the bare minimum we can do.

As I said, even if those tests are overcome, the fact that siblings are not considered “core” family members for the purposes of the rules has other consequences. I turn to another case study. Two unaccompanied Eritrean children saw a household member killed. One of the kids was beaten up during the same raid. They submitted applications for family reunion in November 2022, some months before the most recent upsurge in fighting. The applications were originally refused, but an appeal was lodged and the Home Office eventually conceded it. That was welcome, but the Home Office is now insisting on payment of the immigration health surcharge, which, of course, the family simply cannot afford. Surely in such circumstances any fee or health surcharge should be waived.

Finally, I turn to processing times. If one of these kids is somehow in a position to jump through all the hoops I have described, surely the least we will offer is a speedy priority service. The service standard for family reunion applications is 12 weeks, but I am told that many applications take six months to a year. If an appeal is required in order to overturn a refusal—we have just heard about an example of that—the wait can be more than doubled. Family separation will always be painful, but for unaccompanied children in Sudan, and even in some of the neighbouring countries, it is also seriously dangerous. Surely some sort of priority processing has to be given to cases where the applicant is directly in danger.

Another case study involves Wissam, who is 17, and Abdul, who is 14. They applied to join their older brother just before war broke out and had an appointment to enrol their biometrics in Khartoum. That could not happen, as the centre closed down. Struggling to access food and water, and at risk of kidnapping, trafficking or exploitation, the brothers were victims of robbery. Ultimately, they decided to flee again and make a dangerous, irregular journey to Uganda. They now live unaccompanied in cramped conditions and, because of their age and nationality, face regular discrimination in accessing sanitation, including clean water. The 14-year-old is struggling with mental health issues and suffering night terrors because of his experiences in Sudan and on the journey to Uganda. Surely we cannot leave those two brothers, who are now in a position to submit their application, to wait for months and perhaps years. Surely applications have to be given priority in those circumstances.

The Minister will no doubt tell us about the significant number of people who do arrive here in the UK under our family reunion arrangements. I acknowledge that fact and I welcome it. However, it would be totally wrong to say that the system is functioning well; various reports by the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration testify to that. Lots of improvements still have to be made. I am not asking for a revolution today, although perhaps I will pursue that further in the months to come. Today, I simply ask that the Home Office accepts that it has to be nimble, to respond and to tweak its rules and processes where circumstances require. The utterly dire circumstances in Sudan surely justify such a response.

In summary, I am asking the Home Office three things. First, I ask it to rethink the requirement for people trapped in Sudan—particularly children—to provide biometrics in advance at a visa application centre. Please look at alternatives, whether waiting until people’s arrival in the UK before requiring biometrics, or some other compromise that does not hold up the consideration of applications.

Secondly, I ask the Home Office, either by tweaking the rules or, perhaps more realistically, by issuing guidance for cases such as those I have described, to make it clear that, as a general rule, children from Sudan seeking to join siblings or other family members in the UK should be treated as meeting the “exceptional” test for the family reunion rules. I would like to think that that would be applied to siblings more generally, but for today’s purposes I make a special case for those seeking to leave Sudan. I also ask the Home Office not to make any such applications subject to fees and health surcharges.

Thirdly, I ask the Home Office to prioritise these applications, in recognition of the dangers that the people making them face. Do not leave them waiting for months. Finally, if possible, seek to work with international organisations and non-governmental organisations to help support safe passage from Sudan, as and when applications are allowed.

I close with a warning, because the danger is that if we do not facilitate their applications, these youngsters will end up seeking to make their own way to the UK, irregularly and dangerously. That brings me to the final case I want to mention, which is that of 16-year-old Daoud, who fled Eritrea to Sudan. In the light of the situation there, he fled again, to South Sudan. With no progress on securing refugee family reunion from there, he took matters into his own hands and started making his way towards the Mediterranean. He is currently arbitrarily detained in Libya. Some might say he made his own choices, but I think we left him with no choice at all.

I do not want to have to come back here in a few months with another Adjournment debate on this subject and to have to provide similar—or even worse—updates on the other children I have mentioned in this debate. I know the Minister cannot make policy on the hoof, but I urge him to speak with officials, to rethink the Home Office strategy in relation to those who are suffering in Sudan, and to ensure that we are doing all we can to facilitate and support family reunion.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration 6:39, 29 Tachwedd 2023

I thank Stuart C. McDonald for securing this Adjournment debate. We share his deep concern about the situation in Sudan and all those affected by it, including those seeking refugee status in the United Kingdom or other safe countries. The Government remain committed to upholding the principle of family reunion by providing a safe and legal route to bring families together through the refugee family reunion policy.

The family reunion route allows individuals with protection status in the UK to sponsor their partner or children to stay with or join them here, provided they formed part of a family unit before the sponsor fled their country of origin to seek protection. While we sympathise greatly with the situation in which many individuals in Sudan find themselves, we do not intend to prioritise refugee family reunion applications from those impacted by the Sudanese conflict, as there are many other individuals in the queue who will be facing broadly comparable situations elsewhere in the world. We want to treat all individuals facing such situations in the same manner and ensure that, where appropriate, they can be supported to a life in the UK in accordance with our rules.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Scottish National Party, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East

I would not necessarily say that people seeking to come here from Sudan because they are in danger there should be prioritised ahead of others who face similar risks elsewhere—a point that the Minister fairly makes—but does the Home Office make any consideration or assessment of risk at all? There are people who apply for refugee family reunion, quite rightly and fairly, who do not face any imminent risk because they are in a relatively safe third country. Surely the fact that people are facing real danger is an added reason to give priority to their family reunion applications. That should be something that the Department considers.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, which I am happy to take up with my officials. Our policy is one of non-discrimination, so individuals are treated equally, regardless of their country of origin. Obviously, there are a number of places in the world with great danger and we do not choose to rank them in order of priority. However, I can see some merit in what he is saying, so I am happy to give that consideration.

It is important to note that the UK has a very strong record of supporting refugees. Since 2015, we have resettled over half a million people seeking safety, which is among the most generous offerings in our country’s history. The UK ranks highly among other developed countries in that regard. We continue to welcome refugees through our existing global resettlement schemes, including the UK resettlement scheme itself, community sponsorship and the mandate resettlement scheme. Since 2015, we have issued 49,000 family reunion visas to family members of those with protection status, with over half of those visas for children. That figure demonstrates our commitment to refugee family reunion.

We have welcomed Sudanese nationals through both our UK resettlement scheme and the community sponsorship scheme in 2022 and 2023. Between 2015 and 2023, 6,500 Sudanese nationals have been granted visas under refugee family reunion. In the year to September 2023, 618 Sudanese nationals were granted visas under refugee family reunion. The UK is making a significant commitment, although of course the need is very great, as the hon. Gentleman says, due to the situation in Sudan.

We will continue to consider our approach to refugee family reunion in the round rather than on a crisis-by-crisis basis. The UK has no plan at the moment to introduce a designated resettlement scheme for Sudanese refugees. As a general rule, it is important that the UK does not treat migration as the first lever that we pull to try to help people in grave situations in the world.

Generally speaking, the greatest impact that the UK can make, whether that is in Sudan or in other crisis situations, is by using our full diplomatic muscle and our development aid to support people in the region, which is, in fact, the place where the majority of refugees find themselves. Indeed, that happens with respect to the Sudanese situation, where hundreds of thousands of individuals are being supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other organisations in the immediate environs of Sudan. The UK is proud to be supporting those efforts to help those individuals.

I wish to turn more specifically to some of the very valid questions that the hon. Gentleman raised. First, he raised the question of those fleeing conflict zones who find it difficult to provide documents for family reunion purposes. We recognise that this is a challenge for those fleeing their homes and their home countries. Although the onus is on the applicant to show that the relationship is genuine, there are no specific requirements to provide certain types of evidence. We recognise that documentary evidence may not always be available, particularly in countries where there is no functioning administrative authority to issue a passport, a marriage certificate, or a birth certificate. Decision makers should take into consideration evidence from a range of sources, including information provided by their UK family sponsor. Each decision is considered on the balance of probabilities to identify whether there is sufficient evidence to prove that the individuals are related as claimed.

It is important to prevent abuse of the refugee family reunion policy and to safeguard applicants by carefully reviewing their applications where fraudulent documents are submitted, or where there is evidence that the sponsor obtained leave by deception.

With more specific regard to the situation in Sudan, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that the visa application centre in Khartoum is closed until further notice. As a result, any passports remaining there are having to be held in secure storage. We are committed to doing everything we can to support people who find themselves affected by that closure and to reopen the centre as soon as it is safe to do so for our staff and their contractors. There are other visa application centres in the wider vicinity of Sudan. I appreciate that the distances are long, and that the journeys can be arduous and, at times, unsafe. We do have visa centres in Cairo and Jeddah, and many people have made use of those in the time since the crisis began.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Scottish National Party, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East

Even among the cases that I spoke about, one or two individuals had made it into a neighbouring country—unfortunately one had made it to South Sudan where there is also not a visa application centre—but surely, particularly in the case of children, it is too much to ask them to make a dangerous journey such as that to supply biometric information. There should be some sort of presumption against the need to provide biometric information, or at least a willingness to consider deferring it before the Home Office even looks at the application.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

In most cases, unfortunately, individuals will have to make a journey to leave Sudan, as it is very unlikely that they will fly directly from Sudan. Most of the cases that I have been made aware of as Immigration Minister are of individuals who have made the journey to Cairo or to Jeddah or other neighbouring countries.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

Before I give way to the hon. Gentleman, I will reply directly on the biometrics point, which is an important question. Fundamentally, we believe that biometrics are extremely important, because we want to protect the UK’s national security and the safety of our citizens here. Although, of course, we all want to see the best in individuals coming here, particularly in young people and children, there are individuals whom we would not want to enter the United Kingdom. As such, biometrics, in the form of facial image and fingerprints, underpin our immigration system. However, we make exceptions for individuals who find themselves in the most difficult situations.

We published guidance in May 2023, which sets out our approach to handling applicants who claim that it is unsafe to travel from Sudan to a visa application centre in another country to enrol their biometrics—he referred to that situation in his speech. The guidance sets out the circumstances under which UK Visas and Immigration will either predetermine an application or defer the requirement to enrol biometric information until the applicant arrives in the UK, when the applicant has demonstrated their circumstances to be exceptional. In most cases, we require biometrics to be taken as part of the application so that we can conduct the checks on a person’s identity and suitability to come to the UK. It is ultimately the responsibility of the applicant to satisfy the decision maker about their identity.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman can take some comfort from the fact that the guidance gives that flexibility. I hear that he feels that it is being applied too onerously and in a way that is insufficiently sensitive to the situation in Sudan. I am happy to take that away, speak to my officials and, if he has further examples, to put those in front of them so that we can make sure that the guidance is being applied fairly.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Scottish National Party, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East

I am grateful that the Minister is open to having a discussion about this issue. He is right that, ultimately, all these kids will probably have to leave for a neighbouring country for onward travel. However, it is one thing to ask them to leave in the certainty that they will be allowed into the United Kingdom; it is another to ask them to leave and provide biometric information on the off-chance that they might be allowed in at some future point.

One compromise might be to consider the family reunion application without the biometric information; if it is granted, then tell them to come to a neighbouring country and provide the biometric information there. Will the Minister take that away and think about it?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Minister for Immigration

I will be happy to look into that and come back to the hon. Gentleman. We both agree that biometrics are important. We want to ensure that they are compromised only in the most exceptional circumstances so that we can protect national security, but it is important that we show a degree of discretion when people—young people, in particular—find themselves in the hardest of situations. I will be happy to look into the issue and write to him.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned processing time for family reunion applications, and I want to address that directly. In general, UKVI is operating well and is meeting its service standards in all, or almost all, visa categories, but there are delays with respect to family reunion—a point that he and other Members have raised in the past. We acknowledge the need to dedicate more resource to support the safe and legal routes and are reviewing processes to streamline decision making to make it more efficient for applicants.

We recognise that the family members of those with protection status in the UK are particularly vulnerable. When the out-of-country decision making team receives a request for prioritisation from an applicant or their representative, that will be assessed to determine whether the application should be prioritised. As I said in answer to the hon. Gentleman’s previous comment, we do not prioritise in a blanket way because of nationality, but we do give priority to cases involving particularly vulnerable individuals.

Examples of grounds for prioritisation may include applicants or sponsors who have serious medical conditions or terminal illnesses. The list of grounds for prioritisation is non-exhaustive; managers undertake a holistic consideration of the applicant’s circumstances when considering a request for prioritisation. The hon. Gentleman also asked about the cost of refugee family reunion. It is free—no fee it levied, although he did raise some of the allied costs that go with it. We make sure that the route is free for obvious reasons.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about child sponsors. The family reunion policy is intended to allow those granted protection status in the UK to sponsor, pre-flight, immediate family members to join them here. We must avoid creating an incentive for people, particularly children, to leave their families and risk very dangerous journeys, hoping that relatives will be able to join them later. We do, unfortunately, come across examples of that, including through the small boats route, which is among the most perilous of journeys that a child could make.

There are other provisions in the immigration rules that cater for extended family members and, where a valid application does not meet the criteria within our rules, including child sponsors, we consider whether there are compelling compassionate factors that warrant a granting outside the rules. We believe that were children allowed to sponsor parents, that would create a real risk of an incentive for more children to be encouraged, or even forced, to leave their family and risk very hazardous journeys to the UK. That plays into the hands of criminal gangs that exploit vulnerable people, and goes against all our safeguarding responsibilities and instincts. Our policy is not designed to keep child refugees apart from their parents, but in considering any policy we have to think carefully about the wider impact to avoid putting more people unnecessarily into harm’s way.

Finally, I will answer the broader question about refugee resettlement. We have a proud record as a country, having offered half a million people a safe and legal route into the UK. We understand that the scale of disruption and situations around the world mean that so many people find themselves in grave need. Our approach has to be considered very carefully, but we want to continue to work with international organisations, such as the ones that the hon. Member referenced. We have a good relationship with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees through our global resettlement scheme, and earlier in the year, through the Illegal Migration Act 2023, we legislated so that we can introduce further schemes in the future.

I recently launched a consultation in which we asked every local authority in the whole of the United Kingdom to give us their capacity to take refugees on such schemes over the course of the year to come. That consultation is open and I encourage the hon. Member to talk to his local authority and see whether it is taking part in it. We will carefully consider the responses, and if they suggest that there is further capacity across the UK, that will lead us either to extend existing schemes or to create new ones so that the UK can play an even greater and more generous role in the years ahead in helping more people from places such as Sudan to come to the UK.

I thank the hon. Member for securing the debate, and all our colleagues tonight who have listened or contributed. I fully understand the interest in the subject, given the great concern that everyone feels about the situation in Sudan. I hope that I have set out our record and the work that we are doing, and given him some assurances that he and I can work closely together to learn from his experiences, and his evident sincere concern about the issue, to ensure that the scheme is operating as well as it can.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.