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New EU Refugee Family Reunification Rules are Unfair, says UN - 2003-09-24

The U.N. Refugee Agency has criticized the European Union's latest set of rules on refugee family reunification as discriminatory and restrictive. UNHCR says the latest European Union rules discriminate against certain categories of refugees and could keep some refugees unnecessarily separated from their children and spouses.

For instance, UNHCR Spokesman Rupert Colville says married couples under age 21 do not have an automatic right to be reunified, even if they have small children. He says these families can be kept apart solely because of their age.

"A split family is a really terrible thing," he said. "Any of us that have wives and husbands and children and if you were not allowed to see them for several years that would be about the worst thing you can imagine."

Mr. Colville says the new E.U. rules also limit reunification only to spouses and minor children. He says states are not obliged to admit adult children, elderly parents or other close relatives even if they may be completely dependent on the refugee family.

The UNHCR also criticizes the distinction made by the European Union between refugees who fled their home fearing individual persecution and those who fled their countries because of generalized violence, such as indiscriminate bombing. Mr. Colville says the first category of refugees is entitled to family reunification, whereas the second is not.

"For example, if you took, let us say, the Bosnian crisis, people who could show that they were being individually persecuted would be allowed to have their wives and children join them," said Mr. Colville. "People who fled the besieged city of Gorazde, which was a kind of generalized situation, and just got out with their lives, would not be allowed to have their wives and children automatically join them."

Mr. Colville says this rule makes no sense since people who run away from indiscriminate violence have needs that are every bit as compelling as people fleeing persecution and meet the definition of a refugee as outlined in the 1951 refugee Convention.