Activists predict more legal fights as unaccompanied minors face return

The Home Office could face a big increase in legal challenges if it implements plans to return unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to their countries of origin, campaigners claimed this week.

Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) papers seen by Community Care concede that there are “likely to be occasions” when removal “is not in accordance with the best interests of the child” but is necessary for immigration control.

Home Office officials have twice visited Vietnam to assess whether conditions are suitable to return unaccompanied minors. It is also considering returning children to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola. But an agreement with the Albanian government has stalled after a change in administration.

Adrian Matthews, asylum project manager at the Children’s Legal Centre, said forced removal decisions could be challenged on the grounds that they breached the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child or the European Convention on Human Rights.

The UK has a reservation on the UNCRC for immigration control purposes, but Matthews said courts were most likely to consider whether the Home Office had done enough to ensure children’s safety on their return.

“There could be a massive amount of legal challenges,” he added.

A Home Office spokesperson said it had no immediate plans to pilot returns of any of the 500 or so lone Vietnamese asylum-seeking children in the UK, and that each case would be considered on its own merits.

The IND papers state that no child would be returned unless their family had been traced or other “appropriate arrangements” had been established.

The Vietnamese government is believed to be willing to co-operate with the returns scheme, but the Home Office has found it difficult to gain the support of non-government organisations to help administer it.

Lisa Nandy, chair of the Refugee Children’s Consortium, warned that the scheme could return children who had been trafficked into the UK but were too scared to tell authorities.

Policy background to Home Office plans

  • Unaccompanied minors have been granted leave to remain in the UK until they turn 18.
  • Children from Vietnam, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo are being considered for return.

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