News of the deportation of a seven-year-old girl trafficked into the UK is, on the face of it, alarming enough. But the fact that such action was taken without rigorously checking the validity of claims that her mother is living in Glasgow and seeking a reunion is beyond comprehension.
The Home Office allegedly took six months to confirm to the woman who says she is Lavendah Nyambura’s mother that the child was in the care of Hillingdon social services. By then, plans for Lavendah’s deportation were well under way and, seven days later, Lavendah was on a plane back to Kenya. The two did not even get a chance to speak.
The Home Office insists that no child is returned to their country of origin without adequately ensuring that family or appropriate services are there to look after them on arrival. But this “check” does not amount to acting in the child’s best interests. Surely no decision about Lavendah’s best interests could have been made without assessing the possibility of reuniting her with her mother. A DNA test would have helped.
The Home Office’s failure to act in a child’s best interest comes as no surprise. Campaigners and chief inspectors of children’s services have long-warned of the implications of the failure to extend well-being and safeguarding duties introduced under the Children Act 2004 to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate.
Rumours that proposed reforms to services for unaccompanied asylum seeking children will leave this group of vulnerable children with fewer rights and less support than other children in care further show the Home Office’s apparent disregard for the Every Child Matters agenda influencing policy elsewhere in government. While the Department for Education and Skills is proposing to extend foster care placements for looked-after children to the age of 18, for example, the Home Office is apparently talking about capping foster care support for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children at age 16.
The Home Office must be forced to remember that every unaccompanied minor is a child first and an asylum-seeker second, and to afford every child the rights, support and protection they deserve.
Seven-year-girl removed despite her mother’s presence in the UK