Family Reunification

In light of obstacles to traditional resettlement around the world, IRAP has increased its focus on family reunification as a primary pathway to safety for refugees and other forced migrants. The right to family reunification is enshrined in law in the U.S., European Union Member States, and many other countries. IRAP works to protect these rights through:

  • Individual representation of clients seeking reunification with their family members in the U.S. and certain European countries;
  • Advocacy to improve family reunification systems and remove structural hurdles; that prevent refugees and other forced migrants from accessing these rights;
  • Litigation to enforce these rights through court orders.

IRAP’s Legal Services Department represents refugees and other forced migrants around the world who seek reunification with their relatives in the U.S., and the EU. We also work in partnership with lawyers and other organizations providing legal assistance for refugees seeking reunification in Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom. 

Since 2019, IRAP has worked in coordination with UNHCR and RefugePoint on a multijurisdictional project to identify and represent refugees in East Africa, the Middle East and North Africa seeking family reunification, including unaccompanied child refugees seeking reunification with their parents. The project incorporates advocacy and litigation approaches to some of the key issues refugees face in accessing family reunification. In 2020, our first litigation win in France led to a court ordering the French consulate to accept a family reunification application from a separated Afghan family. The family reunited in France in July 2020.

Client Story

Natnael* was separated from his mother from the time he was four years old, when his parents fled Eritrea fearing for their safety. His father had narrowly avoided conscription into the country’s repressive military service and feared retaliation. Natnael remained in Eritrea under the care of his grandmother and maternal aunt, but struggled with depression related to the separation from his parents. His aunt traveled to Ethiopia in hopes of reuniting Natnael with his mother, only to discover that she had been resettled to France. Natnael was able to register with UNHCR in Ethiopia in the summer of 2019 as an unaccompanied minor, and IRAP was able to represent him and help him navigate the complex processes involved in family reunification. In spring 2021, Natnael was reunited with his mother and siblings in France. [Artwork by Kathleen Danganan.]

Illustration of an Eritrean mother and son upon being reunited. The mother has long curly hair and wears a surgical mask. Her son leans against her holding a bouquet of flowers. The word "Welcome" is written at their feet. Artwork by IRAP Osgoode chapter member Kathleen Danganan.

Client Story

Makulang, a refugee teenager from South Sudan, was finally reunited with his brother, Malith, in 2019. The siblings were orphaned and separated at a very young age. While Malith resettled in the United States in 2015, Makulang remained at risk in Kenya, alone with no legal status. Through IRAP’s innovative model of partnering with law firms to provide high quality, remote representation on urgent refugee cases, we were able to place Makulang’s case with a devoted team of pro bono lawyers at Greenberg Traurig, LLP. The team helped Makulang secure humanitarian parole, a pathway to safety accessible to those in extreme duress. This opportunity allowed Makulang to travel to the United States and apply for asylum there.

Makulang, a South Sudanese child, poses with his brother and his pro bono team in a conference room decorated with red, white and blue balloons.