(IRIN) – An aggressive strategy by the United States to deter thousands of people fleeing violence in Mexico and Central America includes keeping women and children in detention for months while they await asylum hearings.
Scott Morrison sees holding children in detention as a “consequence” of other border policies to discourage asylum seekers from risking death at sea rather than a deterrent in itself, he has told a human rights inquiry.
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Children’s right campaigners have condemned Kent County Council after it proposed to lock up unaccompanied refugee and migrant children for up to six weeks to protect them from traffickers.
Source: CYP Now
On 1 September 2012, the Refugee Council is organising a 10 km night walk in central London to celebrate the 18th birthday of its work with separated child refugees.
Click here for details
The government’s proposed changes to Working Together guidance to safeguard children will harm children in need, argues Caoilfhionn Gallagher, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers and co-ordinator of the Every Child in Need Campaign
Source: Community Care
Source: Institute of Race Relations
The Children’s Society has recently published a report on levels of destitution and poverty among asylum-seeking and migrant youth.
An alarming rise in the number of destitute children seeking support through children’s centres in the UK has prompted research on the abhorrent conditions faced by young asylum-seekers and migrants. The report, ‘I don’t feel human’: experiences of destitution among young refugees and migrants, by the Children’s Society, examines key data and assesses the extent of the problem.
Different groups and organisations identify and address destitution in different ways. The UK government has defined destitution in the Immigration and Asylum Act (1999) and the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act (2002). For the purpose of this report, destitution is defined as ‘the lack of regular access to essential resources such as food, clothing, toiletries, medicine and a place to live.’
Forced destitution has been a deliberate policy by previous and current policymakers so as to deter asylum claims and reduce the supposed incentives for those seeking asylum. The withdrawal of support and funds to refused asylum seekers is a major tool for governments seeking to expedite their return to their countries of origin. Children and families subject to immigration control or irregular immigration status have no recourse to public funds. Existing support schemes are limited and offered under strict conditions, and often, young people are not accessing these services.
The Children Act (1989) requires that all children receive support in their area, and social services has to provide accommodation and assistance to a family of a child in the interest of safeguarding the child’s welfare. However, local authority support is often withheld or withdrawn from migrants and refused asylum seekers under provisions in the Nationality, Immigration, and Asylum Act. This ongoing tension between the legal requirement to safeguard child welfare and immigration policies has left young asylum seekers in limbo.
Currently, there is no central agency or database for monitoring destitution among migrant children. Existing data is derived from local agencies and put together by the Children’s Society. According to Home Office figures, 21 per cent of all refused asylum seekers were children, and 86 per cent of these cases involved very young children under the age of five. Fifty-one per cent of migrant children receive no support from formal or private agents, and 40 per cent of those in receipt of support had experienced prolonged destitution of up to six years.
Destitution and its consequences
Young people typically experienced destitution because social services did not believe they were children and refused to support them; because of relationship breakdown and the exhaustion of private fostering arrangements; or because after turning 18, they had been discharged from social care.
The consequences of destitution among young migrants are varied. Many resort to dangerous survival strategies such as sex work and petty crime. Fear of coming to the attention of authorities means that many child migrants avoid medical care, resulting in poor health, and high rates of infant mortality caused by difficulty accessing pre- and ante-natal services. Sexually transmitted diseases, poor diet and hygiene, and deteriorating mental health (symptoms of which include self-harm and suicide) are all frequently experienced by destitute child migrants. These health problems are often exacerbated by widespread homelessness and abuse experienced by child migrants.
The report makes a number of recommendations which include:
* Cash-based support at 100 per cent support for children under 18 and at least 70 per cent for adults where accommodation is provided;
* Increased funding from local authorities;
* Permission to work;
* Legal advice made more accessible;
* Wide-scale monitoring of destitution;
* A comprehensive child poverty strategy that includes the needs of asylum-seeking, refugee and migrant communities.
‘I don’t feel human’: experiences of destitution among young refugees and migrants, Children’s Society, can be downloaded here (http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/tcs/research_docs/thechildrenssociety_idontfeelhuman_final.pdf ) (pdf file, 908kb).  According to these statutes, a person and his dependents are destitute ‘if they do not have and cannot obtain both (a) adequate accommodation, and (b) food and other essential items’. The Information Centre about Asylum and Refugees however describes destitution as ‘the inability to access statutory support mechanisms … reliance on friends, family and charitable groups for basic subsistence and/or accommodation. It can also be defined by its symptoms or effects, such as homelessness’.
Source: Free Movement
This is the week in which Human Rights Watch reported that ‘Children deported to Kabul will face horrible risks‘ and Amnesty International reported that at least 28 children had died in the IDP camps around Kabul as result of the freezing winter conditions and lack of food. Yet to respond to these and other reports of the appalling circumstances within Afghanistan, the UKBA can be said to still think that once a dateline of 18 years of age is crossed or there was once disclosed even the most tenuous of family links Kabul, a young Afghan can in many circumstances be returned to Kabul. Where we often disagree with the UKBA’s stated positions on a particular country situation we can at times at least understand them. The UKBA’s position here cannot be understood. Now is not the time to return minors or young people to Afghanistan. The new decision in AA (unattended children) Afghanistan CG  UKUT 0016 (IAC) is certainly a long way off from forcing the UKBA into any policy initiative which favours minors or those just over the 17½ year threshold, so much is clear from the neutrally toned headnote:
(1) The evidence before the Tribunal does not alter the position as described in HK (Afghanistan), namely that when considering the question of whether children are disproportionately affected by the consequence of the armed conflict in Afghanistan, a distinction has to be drawn between children who were living with a family and those who are not. That distinction has been reinforced by the additional material before this Tribunal. Whilst it is recognized that there are some risks to which children who will have the protection of the family are nevertheless subject, in particular the risk of land mines and the risks of being trafficked, they are not of such a level as to lead to the conclusion that all children would qualify for international protection. In arriving at this conclusion, account has been taken of the necessity to have regard to the best interest of child.
(2) However, the background evidence demonstrates that unattached children returned to Afghanistan, depending upon their individual circumstances and the location to which they are returned, may be exposed to risk of serious harm, inter alia from indiscriminate violence, forced recruitment, sexual violence, trafficking, and a lack of adequate arrangements for child protection. Such risks will have to be taken into account when addressing the question of whether a return is in the child’s best interests, a primary consideration when determining a claim to humanitarian protection
This superbly crafted determination from Mr Justice Owen and UTJ Jarvis provides us with as full and honest an appraisal of the current situation for young returnees as I have seen in the recent past. AA was from Kabul Province and arrived in the UK as an unaccompanied minor in May 2009. His claim for asylum was fear of persecution on return to Kabul as an unaccompanied minor and/or by reason of political opinion imputed to him by virtue of anti-Taliban family connections and that he himself had been among a group who sang an anti-Taliban song at a public gathering. The Tribunal allowed the appeal, ruling that he has proved that there was a real risk of being persecuted or of other serious harm if returned to his home area or to Kabul.
Not unusual facts but even so these are a few reasons why I think the decision deserves to be fully digested:
i. It reminds us, and we all sometimes need reminding, to always look beyond the headnote of any reported case. The summary provided above simply does not do justice to the wealth of findings and observations made within the body of the determination which can be used to the benefit of claimants.
ii. It includes a fabulous summary of all current learning on the proper approach to the assessment the evidence of minors. I haven’t seen this in such a useful form in a single determination or judgement before. Very much worth reading and reciting ad nauseum until your particular audience understands that things are different — very different — when dealing with children.
iii. It reveals that the situation in Kabul and Afghanistan generally is deteriorating and has worsened since HK.
iv. It serves a reminder that even if a young person is from Kabul or Kabul Province (where the UKBA often states adequate protection exists), this does not permit a less stringent examination of risk when they would be returning unaccompanied.
v. It reiterates how vulnerable unaccompanied children are to sexual exploitation and force recruitment and, as per Court of Appeal in DS (Afghanistan) the UKBA is itself under an obligation to attempt proactively to trace the family members of unaccompanied minors.
This is a very useful case but what to my mind is so commendable is that each and every stage of Tribunal’s fact finding process involves careful consideration of the correct approach to the assessment of a child’s evidence. Of course I want this to be as an inclusive a post as possible, but maybe only the refugee lawyers amongst us will understand why it’s so refreshing to see something done so well.
The Refugee Council has criticised Nick Clegg for failing to keep his promise to end the detention of children in immigration centres after the Home Office announced that 17 young people were held last month.
Source: Free Movement
Today’s report by the Children’s Commissioner, Landing in Dover, exposes gross double standards by UK Border Agency officials. The report reveals the existence of a so called ‘gentleman’s agreement’ operating at the south coast ports whereby an unaccompanied child who did not make an immediate asylum claim would be returned to France within 24 hours of arrival in the UK with no welfare or other assessment and no referral to social services.
The agreement was in place from at least 1995 through to November 2011, when the Children’s Commissioner discovered the existence of the agreement. At this point the practice was halted immediately by the new Chief Executive of UKBA, the inappropriately named Rob Whiteman.
The practice of returning unaccompanied children with no welfare assessment is so obviously in breach of the duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children imposed by section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 that it beggars belief that UKBA officials continued with the practice. The practice was also obviously in breach of all the UKBA guidance to its staff about trafficking, which encourages staff to be proactive and alert in seeking to identify potential victims of trafficking.
Not only that, but the investigation found that the UK Border Agency is still detaining children despite Government commitments to the contrary:
The report finds that children are in fact not currently being held for the ‘shortest appropriate period of time’. Rather they are detained whilst significant interviews that will inevitably bear on their prospects of being granted permission to stay in the UK are conducted. From the cases we have considered in preparation of this report, we find that the local authority is only informed of the child’s arrival several hours after initial detention and well into the interviewing process. The report concludes that interviewing children in depth immediately on arrival is unnecessary and not in their best interests and should be reconsidered.
Even where children said that they were tired or ill UKBA staff would apparently carry on regardless and press on with further interviews without referring the child to social services. The report identifies the following failings:
- Children are generally not fit for interview due to illness, hunger, tiredness, fear or a combination of these factors.
- The length of time between being placed into detention and release into care is too long. This is due to both the numbers of interviews routinely undertaken and the waiting times between the interviews.
- Telephone interpreting is generally used at the interviews and is not, in our view, ‘fit for purpose’.
- Children are in practice unable to instruct a legal representative or in most cases have an independent Responsible Adult present during interviews and yet the interviews can be relied upon by UKBA in the asylum decision.
- Even in the absence of a legal representative or independent adult, children are required to sign the screening interview record, confirm its contents are correct and confirm that they have understood legal warnings and instructions from the immigration officer.
This is all pretty horrifying, and it should inform judges and lawyers when they consider whether weight should be attached to information from screening interviews of unaccompanied children.
The good intentions of Ministers, senior managers and the people who write the UKBA policy documents are all very well, but what matters is what happens on the ground. Culture change is always hard but the UK Border Agency has a long, long way go before it can realistically assert that its staff take children’s welfare seriously.