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Blog Post

Child protection & the hidden dangers of the Immigration Bill

11th January 2016

The UK’s immigration rules and systems affect some children and young people in almost every aspect of their lives. Their immigration status can determine whether they have enough food to eat and a safe place to stay, whether they have access to the healthcare and services they need, and if they can continue in education or training after their school years. At The Children’s Society our staff routinely see the strain this places on children and young people, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation, destitution and homelessness.

The Government’s recent introduction of the Immigration Bill to parliament means this situation is set to get worse. The bill will have wide-ranging implications for the safety and welfare of thousands of children and young people across the country and in its current form, represents a regressive step in our work to protect the lives of some of the most vulnerable children and young people in the UK.

What does the bill contain?

The Bill could leave thousands of children and families destitute and homeless because it removes Home Office support from families whose asylum claims have failed, whilst simultaneously prohibiting local authorities from providing support for children in their area. The bill also limits vital services such as access to education, accommodation and counselling to care leavers who came to the UK as unaccompanied or trafficked children and have grown up in the care system. Immigration status often prevents parents and young people from working or accessing mainstream benefits meaning local authority or Home Office support is often their only lifeline.

Measures in the bill restrict the appeal rights available to thousands of children, young people and their parents on their immigration claims so they will only be able to appeal from outside the UK. Our experience and evidence shows that Home Office decision-making is often inadequate whilst appealing from abroad can often be difficult or impossible.

Returning families and young people is not so simple

This Government believe generating a ‘hostile’ environment will encourage families and young people to leave the UK with the Bill’s stated aim to “encourage those who are present in the UK illegally to depart”. Yet there is growing evidence that with this approach, the bill will not achieve its goal.

We know that the process of return for a family or young person is a highly complex process which is often inaccurately simplified by politicians and the media. Even though someone may have been refused asylum they often continue to have protection needs. This is because their claim may not have been processed fully and comprehensively because of inadequate legal advice and representation early on in their case, or because of difficulties in proving persecution and abuse, and problems with how the Home Office make decisions on their claims[1][2]. Just one example is the war in Syria. The Government has refused asylum to 844 Syrians in the UK since the war began, and yet these people are simply unable to return.

Closing off support for these families and young people will undermine immigration controls and make it more difficult for them return. They will have little incentive to stay in touch with the authorities once support is withdrawn and in other cases, practical barriers created by destitution will make contact impossible. In 2005, a Home Office pilot of a similar policy sought to make families who had been refused asylum leave the UK[3]. None of the families involved returned to their country of origin and instead, 35 families disappeared, losing all contact with services. Its failure was acknowledged in the Home Office’s own evaluation of the pilot.

Bill raises serious child protection issues

Measures in the bill which remove in-country appeal rights risk children being separated from their parents, or forced to leave the country they grew up in, before any legal scrutiny of the Home Office decision and without adequate consideration of the best interests of the child. This could mean more cases involving unaccompanied children or young people over 18 who claimed asylum alone as children will be forced to return to circumstances where they may be at risk of serious harm including sexual abuse, neglect, homelessness, violence and forced marriage. Many of these children will have lived in the UK for many years and have little knowledge of the country they are being returned to.

Removing support from families will have the direct consequence of forcing many more children and families to face destitution and homelessness. We know from our work that this leaves children exposed to abuse, violence, and exploitation[4] and past serious case reviews[5] clearly demonstrate how serious removing support from already vulnerable families can be.

The Government is required under international and domestic law to protect all children in this country, regardless of their circumstances or where they come from. Elements of the bill are at odds with the Home Secretary’s child welfare duty under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 and  the UK’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. As the Immigration Bill progresses through the Lords, it is crucial that changes are made to the bill to ensure those obligations are met.

 

 

[1] The Children’s Society (2012) Into the Unknown: Children’s journeys through the asylum process http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/news-views/press-release/children-seeking-safety-uk-face-damaging-culture-doubt
[2] Amnesty International (2013) Question of Credibility: Why so many initial asylum decisions are overturned on appeal in the UK http://www.amnesty.org.uk/uploads/documents/doc_23149.pdf
[3] Barnardo’s (2005) End of the Road: http://www.barnardos.org.uk/end_of_the_road_asylum_report.pdf
[4] Pinter, I. (2012) ‘I don’t feel human: Experiences of destitution among young refugees and migrants’. The Children’s Society: https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/tcs/research_docs/thechildrenssociety_idontfeelhuman_final.pdf
[5] Serious Case Review of Child Z from Croydon Council (2010): http://www.croydon.gov.uk/contents/departments/healthsocial/pdf/1028604/scr-execsummary; Serious Case Review of Child EG from Westminster City Council (April 2012): http://www.westminster.gov.uk/services/healthandsocialcare/familycare/safeguardingchildren/serious-casereviews


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