SRC Family Reunification Service
The project in brief
"With your support I felt I wasn’t alone"
- beneficiary supported by a volunteer of the SRC Family Reunification Service
The project is implemented by the Swiss Red Cross in Switzerland. It began in 2022 and is currently ongoing.
The aim of our service is to change practice and the legal framework so that more people can assert their right to family life, this by removing practical, administrative and legal obstacles.
To this aim, we offer a range of services that address the challenges met by our beneficiaries at different levels, ranging from individual case support to advocacy and confidential dialogue. In this way, we believe we can take a holistic approach to the issue and achieve lasting changes that will facilitate access to family life for our beneficiaries over the long term.
The creation of an SRC Family Reunification Service will strengthen support for family reunification for those affected, the networking of experts and volunteers, and the raising of awareness of the issue among politicians, authorities, and the population.
Main activities of the Good Practice
The SRC Family Reunification Service provides legal representation to specific cases in view of strategic legal breakthroughs (strategic litigation).
Our focus is on protection holders, i.e. people who have been through an asylum application and have been granted some form of protection.
Such cases can for example be:
- Reverse family reunification (children who bring their parents to Switzerland)
- Family reunification involving siblings
- Family reunification involving persons who do not fall within the strict definition of ‘nuclear family’ but for whom there is a special dependent relationship.
- Subsequent family reunification (after the time limit has passed)
- Family reunification involving ‘working poor’
- Family reunification involving particular social benefit circumstances.
For other cases in similar situations or where legal challenges exist, the CRS Family Reunification Service provides advice, information, and legal analysis to both beneficiaries and partners.
It also provides support for practical and administrative obstacles faced in the family reunification process benefiting from its belonging to an international network such as the Red Cross Movement and its specific link with the authorities as an auxiliary to the public authorities.
In addition to providing advice and legal representation, the SRC Family Reunification Service also engages in other activities to improve respect for the right to family life, such as:
- Development of background information (legal analysis, legal argumentations, position papers, etc.)
- Monitoring legal and political developments in family reunification
- Developing legal templates for the systematic processing of family reunification applications
- Networking: nationally and internationally, with authorities, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and other institutions working in the family reunification sector
- Political lobbying
- Media work to raise awareness
- Confidential dialogue with the authorities
Elements which helped facilitate the implementation of the good practice
The SRC has been repeatedly confronted with the issue of family reunification of particularly vulnerable persons for years through various services and has also studied the subject in depth building up comprehensive knowledge and a national and international network on the topic. In this context, the SRC conducted a needs assessment in 2019-2020, holding internal workshops, interviewing external partners, and affected persons. In this comprehensive process, a great need for support was identified as well as specific gaps that are not covered by any agency in Switzerland.
A supporting factor for the implementation of the SRC family reunification service was the RCRC Movement and its recent RFL Strategy that saw Family Reunification included for the first time as a core RFL activity-The ongoing activities on family reunification within the RCRC Movement were also facilitators (e. g. restoring family links network, Red Cross Working Group Family Reunification which was implemented with the implication of the SRC, launch of REPAIR project by IFRC and other national societies and funded through AMIF).
"I think about my family a lot, but I can't always think about them, otherwise it's too sad and I can't concentrate on my life here and plan my future"
- 18 year old beneficiary of the SRC Family Reunification Service
The project is run by the SRC independently. Nevertheless, the following partners are essential for its successful implementation and the coherence of coordinated actions in the field:
- UNHCR Switzerland
- IOM Switzerland
- Swiss Refugee council and cantonal legal counselling services
- Red Cross Family Reunification Working Group
Videos were produced in partnership with UNHCR, to raise awareness and to provide information on the family reunification requirements and process.
What challenges were encountered in delivering the project and how were they overcome?
As a challenge that was to be expected, it has become apparent that the need for counselling and support on the topic of family reunification is very great and that this need cannot be met with the existing resources. It is therefore essential to clarify again and again where the work of the SRC Family Reunification Service can bring the most added value and how the differences and synergies with other services can best be defined.
How they were overcome
Additional criteria were defined to narrow down the number of cases that will be accepted. Partners like cantonal legal counselling services are provided advice so they can handle and support cases themselves. It is planned to issue two legal factsheets in the next moths to provide these partners with more expertise.
Results of the Good Practice
A team of 7 persons with 4 legal experts are running the SRC family reunification which opened in October 2022 (with counselling on family reunification already starting earlier in the year).
Regular meetings with relevant authorities were established and take place twice a year.
A case study was released in March 2022 focusing on the impact of family reunification and family separation on mental health and integration.
For the year of 2022:
- 210 requests received on family reunification and answered with information and/or advice
- 93 cases were provided in depth legal support
- 9 families successfully supported could be reunited (20 persons joining family members in Switzerland)
- In 6 cases, support was provided for travel arrangements
- 10 cases were provided support in the country where they were (origin or transit)
- 2 beneficiaries supported by a volunteer through the family reunification process
- An interim evaluation of the project is underway for the end of the year 2023.
In what way does the good practice meet one or more of the four objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees?
Objective 3: Expand access to third-country solutions
Promoting and supporting access to family reunification of protection holders contributes to objective 3 of the GCR: Expand access to third-country solutions but also to objective 1. Ease the pressures on host countries, as many family members are staying in transit countries while waiting to be reunited.
By supporting access to family reunification, we promote equality of rights for everyone and reduce legal and practical discriminations that affect minors (they can’t reunite with their parents according to Swiss law), women (often working poors, as their income is often lower and they have the care obligations that limit them in their labour integration), elderly people or persons with disabilities (which benefit from an specific financial support from the State, that excludes them from having access to family reunification).
2024 will be a transition year to turn the 3-year project into an established programme. This will be made based on the interim and final evaluations of the project. Securing funds will be key.
Are there areas in which support would be required to continue and/or scale up your good practice?
Funds are needed to continue and consolidate the good practice and turn it into an established programme of the Swiss Red Cross.