Campaigners fear that the effects of section nine, under which children of failed asylum seekers can be taken into care, could be replicated by a different piece of legislation.
The concerns have been prompted by news that it may become a criminal offence for failed asylum seekers to refuse to co-operate with authorities in obtaining new travel or identity documents to facilitate their removal from the UK.
For this to happen, section 35 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Act 2004 would have to be applied. It is unclear whether this has happened, although the Home Office has already warned some people that they risk arrest under the section.
The offence carries a prison sentence of up to two years. If parents are prosecuted their children could be taken into care. This is the same outcome as under section nine of the same act.
The concern comes as the government is due to publish an evaluation of section nine, which is being piloted in three parts of the country, and announce whether it will repeal the policy or roll it out nationally.
Campaigners have scented victory in their attempt to overturn the law after ministers backed an amendment to the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill empowering the immigration minister to repeal it (Breakthrough in section nine fight, 16 February).
But news that application of a “son of section nine” could be close has worried some campaigners.
Syd Bolton, legal and policy officer (children) at the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, said it was “no coincidence” that the government was looking to implement section 35 after the developments with section nine.
“They have needed to look at other ways to pressure people to co-operate,” he said.
But Nancy Kelley, head of international and UK policy at the Refugee Council, thought courts would detain children with their parents rather than split up families.
Meanwhile, Community Care has learned that the Home Office is considering reform of how unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are looked after by local authorities and giving the National Asylum Support Service a greater role in their care. Councils are responsible for the care of unaccompanied minors.