Fears that the controversial policy of removing financial support and accommodation from families refused asylum would drive them underground have been realised, the latest evidence has revealed.
First-hand encounters by charities Refugee Council and Refugee Action with many of the 116 families selected to take part in the piloting of Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 2004 show the policy has caused “immense distress and panic among families among families who face destitution, homelessness, and having their children taken into care”.
A new report from the charities states that only one of the 116 families in Leeds, London and Manchester has left the UK as a result of Section 9. By contrast, at least 32 families have gone underground without support, housing or access to health and welfare services. Four children of families involved in the pilot are believed to have been taken into care.
Urging the government to look at alternative schemes, Refugee Council chief executive Maeve Sherlock said: “When it launched Section 9, the government said the aim was to encourage families to return home, and not to make them destitute. This report shows that it has achieved the complete opposite result. Section 9 is inhumane and ineffective and should be dropped immediately.”
The report coincided with the first legal challenge of the policy at the High Court last week. A Congolese mother of three who came to the UK in 2002 was seeking a judicial review of the decision to cut off her support in August after she refused to leave the country. Her lawyer argued that the decision ignored the Children Act 1989, and that the policy violated the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as the Human Rights Act.
However, the High Court ruled that the woman, known as K, could prevent her human rights being breached by returning to her country of origin.
The government is currently evaluating the pilots and has denied reports that it has decided against rolling Section 9 out nationwide. Immigration minister Tony McNulty said: “We acknowledge that concerns have been raised and we accept it is a tough policy, but we need to send a clear signal that people refused asylum must go home.”