Rights in Exile Programme

Refugee Legal Aid Information for Lawyers Representing Refugees Globally

Family Reunification

This page contains resources to assist with reuniting families internationally. 

Refugees United. International Family Reunification

www.refunite.org

WARNING: You should not use this website if you or your family at home would be endangered if your identity is revealed. Since all refugees are fleeing persecution, this is most likely to be the case with you. There are some special instructions as to how you can use a different name and use some birth mark or other information that only the loved one that you are trying to find would know, but before using Refunite, we strongly suggest that you take advice BEFORE from the Red Cross or some legal aid office whether and how to fill the Refunite form.

Refugees United (Refunited) is a protected search engine that allows you to search for lost loved ones all over the world. Refunited has a special section for NGOs and has offices in three different countries (Kenya, the United States and Denmark). The search engine can be used free of charge by creating a profile. Please read the WARNING above before you create a profile. 

Refunited FAQ: Information on how Refugees United helps to trace loved ones and how to use the search engine can be found here. If you would like to call one of the three Refunite offices, click here. 

Family Reunification in a member state of the European Union (EU)

This paragraph only applies to those who are currently living in one of the following 25 member states of the European Union: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. For general information on EU member states, see here. 

Family Reunification in the European Union is currently governed by the Directive on the right to family reunification. This establishescommon rules for exercising the right to family reunification in 25 EU Member States (excluding the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark). The Directive only applies to those who are legally residing in one of the EU member states (see list above) and who are not a national of one of the EU countries and  who ask to be reunited with a family member who is also not a national of one of the above listed countries. If you are an EU citizen (you have the nationality of one of the listed countries of the EU), you cannot ask to be reunited with family outside of the EU under this Directive.

If you are a refugee in the EU who wishes to sponsor their family members and bring them to the EU, there are special, more favourable rules applicable: Chapter V of the Directive, specifically articles 9 to 12 determine the conditions under which family reunification is granted for refugees.

Chapter II article 4 defines the types of family members eligible for family reunification in the EU. Click the links above to find out more if you are a non EU citizen wanting to sponsor your family members.

For more information on family reunification, the procedure, please click here. 

Children as sponsors: Children can act as sponsors for their family members, but this is subject to certain provisions. Further information on unaccompanied children as sponsors for family reunification in the EU see here. 
Requirements of children as sponsors: In all EU Member States (except the United Kingdom), children can be beneficiaries in family reunification procedures without a set minimum age. Married children cannot be sponsors in family reunification procedures including their parents.

Family Reunification in the United Kingdom

If you are a refugee or asylee (i.e. a person who has successfully claimed asylum) in the UK, you can find Family Reunion information and guides to help with application of family members to enter the UK at: Freemovement.org

To find a UK visa application centre near you, click here.

Family Reunification in the United States

If you are a refugee or asylee in the US, information on how you help a relative enter the US can be found here. A guide on how to help a relative get refugee or asylee status can be found here. Una versión en español de esta guía puede encontrarse aquí. (A Spanish version of this guide can be found here. )

Family Reunification in Australia

If you are a refugee in Australia, having acquired one of the three eligible visas (Protection visa (subclass 866), Refugee visa (subclass 200, 201, 202, 203, 204) or Resolution of Status visa (subclass 851) as explained in more detail here, information on how you can help a relative enter Australia can be found here under ‘Reunite your split family’.

If you like to read more on family reunification in Australia, you can also follow this link. 

Family Reunification in Canada

If you are a refugee in Canada, information on how you can help a relative enter Canada through the ‘One Year Window’ scheme can be found here.

The definition of family applied under the one-year window scheme comprises the following: the refugee’s spouse or his or her common-law partner; his or her dependent child or a dependent child of his or her spouse or common-law partner; and a dependent child of the dependent child. 

Under this programme, therefore the family definition applied includes essentially only close family members, although there is no requirement that the child be under 18 years old, only that he or she be dependent on the refugee.

For Family Reunification specific to Quebec, please see here.

Family Reunification in Asia

Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan)

Kazakhstan: 'The law of the Republic of Kazakhstan on Migration of Population' details the procedure, rights and obligations of sponsors and family entering Kazakhstan. This can be found specifically under Chapter 4 (article 27, 28 and 29). 

Kyrgyzstan: The Red Crescent of Kyrgyzstan specialises in Family Reunification here.

Uzbekistan: It remains the only country in Central Asia that is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. There is no national legislation or mechanism in place to deal with asylum-seekers and refugees. Asylum-seekers and refugees in the country are therefore considered to be migrants, regulated by migration legislation.

UNHCR has been providing humanitarian assistance to refugees in Uzbekistan since 1993, and although there is no longer an UNHCR office in Uzbekistan, UNHCR has continued its humanitarian activities through the United Nations Development Programme’s Refugee Support Unit (UNDPRSU). We are still trying to find a link to contact for family reunification matters dealt by the UNDPRSU in Uzbekistan.

Turkmenistan: Article 1 of the ‘Turkmenistan: Law on Refugees’ states that the right to Family reunification in Turkmenistan is given to an individual whose claim for refugee status or complementary protection is registered or an individual who has been granted refugee status or complementary protection.

The National Society of Turkmenistan can help reunite vulnerable people in Turkmenistan with their families abroad. For information and help with family reunification, please contact the Society here.

Tajikistan: See ‘Law No.1124 of 2014 on Refugees’ for information on the rights of refugees and asylum seekers relating to family reunification. Article 3.1 of this law states that every asylum seeker and refugee has the right to family reunification. For information and help with family reunification, please contact the Red Crescent Society of Tajikistan here.

East Asia (China, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, and Macau)

China: The Red Cross Society of China can help people living in China be reunited with their families in China or abroad. To find more information on family reunification, click here. You will find the contact details of the Red Cross Society of China here.

Any involvement in family reunification depends on the authorisation of governmental authorities: The Ministry of Civil Affairs, The Ministry of Public Security.​ Article XI of the Order of The Ministry of Public Security of the People's Republic of China details the procedural requirements of a refugee in applying for permanent residence and outlines the 3 categories of asylum seekers or refugees who can apply for permanent residence. 

Article 6 outlines the 3 types of family members of a permanent resident that can also apply for permanent residence: 

  1. A spouse married to a permanent resident for at least five years who has at least five consecutive years of residency in China, is physically present in China for at least nine months each year, and has a stable source of livelihood and a dwelling in China. 

  2. Unmarried children under the age of eighteen.

  3. Direct relatives sixty years of age or older who have no direct relatives in any country other than China, have resided in China for at least five consecutive years, are physically present in China for at least nine months each year, and have a stable source of livelihood and a dwelling in China. “Direct relatives” include the citizen/permanent resident’s parents and his/her spouse’s parents, and the citizen/permanent resident’s grandparents, adult children who are eighteen years of age or above and their spouses, and adult grandchildren who are at least eighteen years old and their spouses.

Hong Kong: UNHCR maintains a sub-office in Hong Kong. However, the UNHCR Beijing Office is only responsible for conducting refugee status determination in China and for providing life-sustaining assistance to refugees in China, including accommodation, living allowances and access to basic health care.

Japan: Japan is a party to both the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967). See the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, specifically Chapter VII-2 Recognition of Refugee Status and other Related Matters. The act does not provide for family reunification of refugees, although regulations implementing the Act permit refugees to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility of Residency Status on behalf of family members. Click here for guidance on individual and family refugee applications in Japan. 

Macau: The UNHCR Regional Office in Beijing covers Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Mongolia. At present, the UNHCR Beijing Office is only responsible for conducting refugee status determination in China and for providing life-sustaining assistance to refugees in China, including accommodation, living allowances and access to basic health care.

Mongolia: In the absence of an asylum law system administered and managed by the government of Mongolia, UNHCR is in charge of documenting, registering and establishing refugee status eligibility for asylum seekers in Mongolia. Due to this, the framework of family reunification is very weak. However, to find more information and help with family reunification, please go to the Mongolian Red Crescent Society here.

North Korea: In the absence of an asylum law system and strict migration laws administered and managed by the government of North Korea, there is currently no information on family reunification in this state. 

South Korea: It is a party to both the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967). 

The Refugee Act of Korea (South Korea) outlines that aliens can apply for refugee status at ports of entry as well as Immigration Offices, Immigration Branch Offices, and Immigration Detention Centers. An applicant is entitled to receive assistance from an attorney during their RSD procedure, be accompanied by a trusted person in interviews, and receive interpretation service from qualified interpreters (see page 5). Under the law, recognised refugees are entitled to social security, access to residential facilities, medical services, access to primary and secondary education, and their academic credentials from their country of origin may be considered valid. 

The spouse and minor children of recognised refugees are also entitled to receive permission to enter South Korea after obtaining a C-3 Short-term General visa at a South Korean diplomatic mission overseas. (See page 5 and 6 under ‘Permission for Family Reunification for the Spouse and Minor Children.’)

To read the Refugee Act of Korea, see here. This link contains versions of the act in English, French and Korean. 

Taiwan: Taiwan does not have Refugee specific law, the Taiwanese government did propose a Refugee Act in 2005 but this remains a draft. People seeking asylum in Taiwan are treated under the National Immigration Act 1999 and the National Immigration Agency is responsible for all immigration-related policies and procedures. Individuals in refugee-like situations including Tibetans, Chinese dissidents and people from Myanmar are protected through special provisions in the Immigration Act. In January 2009 the Legislative Yuan passed amendments to the National Immigration Act to allow foreign nationals who risk persecution in their country of origin to apply for residency in Taiwan. Tibetans who overstay their visas can now apply for residency certificates. To see the National Immigration Act 1999, click here. 

 

South Asia (Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives)

 

Afghanistan: Afghanistan is a party to both the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967). If you are trying to reunite with a family member in Afghanistan, please see the International Red Crescent Society pageto find more information on restoring family links in Afghanistan. Alternatively, you can also contact theAfghan Red Crescent Society. 

Bangladesh: Bangladesh is not a party to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) or the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967). If you are a refugee or asylum seeker trying to reunite with a family member in Bangladesh, please see the International Red Crescent Society’s page on restoring family links in Bangladesh. On this page, you can also access information to contact the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society and the International Red Crescent Society delegation in Dhaka; who both specialise in restoring previously separated family members in Bangladesh. 

Bhutan: Bhutan is not a party to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) or the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967). The Immigration act of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2007 contains some information on refugee status. As a refugee in Bhutan, you can gain immigrant status if you possess a ‘refugee card’. This is defined as the “resident card issued to the Tibetans who opted to remain as refugee” as per section 149 of the Act. According to section 19 of the act, a holder of a refugee card is entitled to stay in the Bhutanese Kingdom “until such time as they leave the Kingdom (or as may be decided by the Government)” and “they shall enjoy free movement in the Kingdom”. There is no information on applying for family reunification under this act. There is no National Red Cross Society established in Bhutan. Still, the ICRC Regional Delegation for South Asia helps security detainees in Bhutan restore contact with their family members in Nepal through family visits every three months. You can contact them here.

India: India is not a party to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) or the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967) and does not have a national refugee protection framework. UNHCR operates in India to establish a protective refugee law framework with its main office in New Delhi. The Indian Red Cross Society works to reunite refugees, asylum seekers and family members separated due to conflicts, disaster or any other situation of humanitarian need and can be contacted through the above link. 

Maldives: Maldives is not a party to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) or the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967). The Maldives Immigration Act contains no information on refugee status, registration or asylum seekers. The Maldivian Red Crescent specialise on restoring family links and can be accessed here.

Nepal: Nepal is not a party to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) or the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967). Although it has welcomed many refugees into its territory, it still lacks a coherent refugee law framework. The Nepal Red Cross Society provides support for restoring family links and can be contacted here. 

Pakistan: Pakistan is not a party to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) or the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967). If you are a refugee or asylum seeker trying to reunite with a family member in Pakistan, please see the International Red Crescent Society’s page on Restoring family links in Pakistan. Alternatively, please see the Pakistan Red Crescent Society who works with the International Red Crescent Society to reunite refugees, asylum seekers and family members in Pakistan. 

Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka is not a party to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) or the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967). Asylum-seekers and refugees are not given particular status by the Government of Sri Lanka and their presence in the country is tolerated until solutions are found. UNHCR therefore conducts refugee status determination (RSD) in Sri Lanka and seeks a durable solution for recognised refugees through resettlement. The Sri Lanka Red Cross Society specialises in restoring family links and can be contacted here. 

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