No safe haven for children in bill

The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill will be the fourth
piece of primary legislation on the subject of immigration in the
past 10 years. Each was heralded amid promises to reform the system
once and for all, take firm action against those who attempted to
abuse the system and make a fairer and faster system for those
“genuinely” seeking refuge.

To date, the most significant impact has been to confuse asylum
seekers and those responsible for delivering services. The latest
changes in policy and legislation for dealing with asylum seekers
are contained in the white paper Safe Haven, Secure Borders. Many
of the proposals outlined in the white paper do not feature in the
bill as they do not require legislative changes. Most of the
changes that will affect unaccompanied children are in this

Under the new policy, immigration staff will be able to
interview unaccompanied children about their claim. While this may
be welcomed for children who want the opportunity to relate their
experience, interviewing children is a sensitive and skilled area
that should only be undertaken by specially trained staff. Children
need access to legal advisers, appropriate interpretation services
and the presence of a supportive adult.

The other area where new policies are being proposed is the
tightening of procedures in relation to those young people whose
age is disputed. Age determination is far from an exact science and
wide open to inaccuracies. It is important for the new system to be
based on a comprehensive assessment rather than the opinion of a

Finally, policies have been introduced to facilitate the removal
of young people who are”looked after” or supported by local
authorities. The need to remove individuals whose asylum claims
have been fairly denied is clear. However, where social services
have invested heavily in the welfare of these “looked after”
children, it is important to work in collaboration with them,
taking the young person’s needs and experiences into account when
they are returned to their country of origin.

None of the measures in the white paper recognises the struggle
unaccompanied children have faced and the services and policies
required to safeguard their rights and needs. Sadly this is yet
another opportunity that the government has missed to get it right
for the most vulnerable children in our society today.

Selam Kidane is a consultant for Baaf Adoption and
Fostering’s refugee children project.

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