Blunkett’s policy may ruin children’s lives

“I am not King Herod,” home secretary David Blunkett insists,
desperately trying to inject as many “ifs” and “buts” and “last
resorts” as possible into his disgraceful pledge to put into care
the children of failed asylum seekers who do not return to their
countries. Anyone other than a politician would admit they were

He goes on to say his aim is a “a fair asylum system and legal,
managed migration”. His constant preoccupation about who to let in
and who to chuck out means that a far more important part of a
“fair asylum system” is being desperately neglected. Namely, what
happens once a family is given permanent leave to stay?

Take a case that typifies the plight of many. A mother arrives from
Sierra Leone with a girl, aged 14, and a boy of 16. Both have been
taught in English. Both are desperate to continue their education
and do well. In London, many boroughs have insufficient secondary
school places. So the girl waits her turn, sitting at home,
pointlessly attending an inadequate English as a second language
course. The boy, despite his age, is academically at least two
years away from GCSEs. What he needs is intensive teaching, five
days a week. The best he can obtain is two hours plus

If he is lucky, he may eventually find a place in a college. In
south London, the colleges are over-subscribed. In order to get a
toe in the door, he will have to sign up to a course in which he
has little interest. Eventually, several years down the line, he
may have acquired enough qualifications to apply to university –
if, that is, he has not lost heart.

Meanwhile, his sister, eventually, is given a place in a supportive
secondary school. It lacks the resources to deal with her
particular needs, so she, too, will be on a slow escalator to
success. Both teenagers want to be accountants or doctors “to give
something back”. Yet, the talk from support agencies is always of
vague NVQs and jobs in the low-wage economy. The assumption is that
– because of the height of the hurdles – all asylum seekers have
poor aspirations and are easily tempted by the promise of money in
their pocket today.

These two young people are bright, determined, an asset to any
country. So please, Mr Blunkett, turn your attention to what really
matters. How how we can stop squandering the talent we so
desperately need? CC

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