The right to a family life, a fundamental right

Friday 14 May 2021

Caritas Luxembourg helps the refugees it accompanies in its social service centres with their family reunification procedures. On the occasion of the International Day of Families, we wanted to highlight this work with Ana-Marija Soric, in charge of these dossiers at Caritas Luxembourg.Why does Caritas Luxembourg attach particular importance to family reunification?

At Caritas Luxembourg, we consider the right to a family life as a fundamental right of every person, whatever their situation. We do everything to ensure that family bonds are maintained and encouraged. For refugees, who often arrive alone in Luxembourg, having family by their side is particularly important. Indeed, we observe that as long as their family is not safely by their side, refugees find it difficult to make the necessary efforts to integrate into our society. How can they concentrate on their language courses, on finding work or accommodation, if their family is not yet safe? It is only once the family is in Luxembourg and their minds are clear that they can finally see a future in our country.

How does family reunification work?

It is not always easy. It can take two or three years until the family is finally here. Refugees currently have three months after obtaining refugee status to apply for family reunification. However, Caritas Luxembourg welcomes Luxembourg's decision to extend this period to six months. Indeed, it takes some time to prepare the file and to gather all the necessary documents, which is a real challenge for some refugees, who have fled their country in very difficult conditions. Some only have church papers to prove their identity and family links. Fortunately, the Luxembourg authorities are very understanding and know the situation in the different countries.

Another challenge is financing the travel. Refugees have to pay for their own plane tickets, possible hotel costs, documents and their translation, etc. However, when they obtain their status, very few refugees have any savings. Often they have spent everything on their own travel and even got into debt. The social offices help them financially and, if necessary, Caritas Luxembourg.

Finally, the family needs to be able to access an embassy in order to make use of their laissez-passer. In some countries, there are no more/no embassies and families are forced to go to neighbouring countries with all the financial, organisational and of course security difficulties that this entails.

Sometimes refugees do not know where their families are, because they have been separated during armed conflicts or during flight. In such cases, people are put in touch with the Red Cross service, which is responsible for tracing families.

One issue of concern to Caritas Luxembourg is that of minors who find themselves without their parents and who arrive in Luxembourg with a distant relative, for example, an uncle or an adult cousin. If they had come alone, these children would have had the right to family reunification. But, as they arrived with a distant family member, they cannot at present apply for family reunification. Yet it is a fundamental right for every child to be with his or her parents.

How do the reunifications go after so many years of absence?

In general, it goes well. Even if some families have not seen each other for a long time, they have stayed in touch by phone. However, the biggest problem when the families arrive is that there is no housing to accommodate them. The families are largely housed in refugee shelters, which does not make it easy to restart a normal family life. However, people are happy to be together and to be safe. After the first few weeks when families are discovering the country and their new living conditions, the refugees are finally beginning to envision a life among us with their children.

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