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14,000 people may die trying to reach safety as UK negotiates Brexit and new immigration rules

15th Jun 2017

A raft carrying refugees arrives on a Greek island

Oxfam urges new government to use changes to immigration laws to do more to help refugees

The global death toll of people trying to reach safety could reach more that 14,000 by the time Britain leaves the European Union, according to a new report released by Oxfam today. As the government prepares to set out its plan in the Queen's Speech, it has an opportunity to help reverse this horrifying trend and show greater responsibility to refugees. 

Using the latest available figures, the report projects how the global refugee crisis could continue to unfold between Monday 19 June, when Brexit negotiations are due to start, and the end of March 2019 when the UK leaves the EU: 

  • More than 22 million people could be forced to flee to another country due to violence and persecution 
  • Around 54,000 could reach the UK in search of protection and more than half (29,000) will be turned away 
  • More than 15,500 refugees living in the UK may ask to be reunited with a member of family, but two out of every five (6,500) could have their request denied. 

The Brexit negotiations will involve changes to Britain's immigration system. Oxfam is calling for the government not to forget its responsibilities to refugees who have risked their lives in search of safety. 

Mark Goldring, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB, said: "These projections paint a horrifying picture of the situation refugees are likely to face if Britain and other nations do not take action. 

"As the government prepares to start Brexit negotiations, there is an opportunity for a truly Global Britain to show leadership and humanity by doing more to end the suffering of refugees." 

A refugee who is given protection in the UK can only bring their husband, wife or children under the age of 18 to live with them. Unlike in many other countries, an unaccompanied child that arrives in the UK cannot bring an adult relative here to support them. This forces families to live apart and some refugees to make dangerous journeys to the UK out of desperation. It also makes it harder for refugees to integrate and contribute to British society. 

Oxfam is calling for some simple changes to the rules for family reunion to help refugees reunite in the UK. This includes broadening the definition of family so that unaccompanied children can sponsor an adult relative to support them, and parents can reunite with dependent or young adult children even if they are over the age of 18. 

Goldring said: "A few simple steps could make it easier for families to reunite in the UK, and avoid the desperation that drives thousands of people to risk their lives in the hands of smugglers every month." 


To arrange interview or for more information, please contact: 
• Kai Tabacek on +44 (0)7584 265 077 / 
• Harriet Hernando on +44 (0)1856 472217 / +44 (0)7557 077008 /

Notes to the editor: 

Download a copy of the media briefing: Brexit and the refugee crisis 

The International Organization for Migration recorded 7,927 migrant deaths in 2016. Oxfam divided this figure by the number of days in 2016 (366) and multiplied by the 648 days between the Queen's Speech (19 June 2017) and when the UK is currently set to leave the EU (29 March 2019). All projections are based on the latest available statistics and assume that the rates neither go up nor down. The aim is to illustrate the potential scale of the challenges ahead, not to project precise figures. 

Oxfam's Stand As One campaign calls on the government to do more to support people forced to flee disaster and conflict. In particular it seeks to change the immigration rules governing family reunion to expand the range of 'family members' who qualify for claiming asylum in the UK. One example of this would be to allow unaccompanied minors to reunite with extended family members in the UK, and for minors already in the UK to bring an adult relative to join them. 

Oxfam works in many of the countries that people are fleeing from and arriving in to seek safety, including in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, Lebanon, Jordan, Greece and Italy. From the world's largest refugee settlement in Uganda to the camps and communities around Mosul in northern Iraq, we are helping millions of displaced people to survive while they wait for the opportunity to return home.

For updates, please follow @oxfamgbpress