A new duty on the immigration service to keep asylum-seeking children safe fails to provide them with the same protection as other young people, campaigners warned this week.
The proposed legislation was not as far-reaching as the Children Act 2004 duty placed on councils, the NHS and other agencies to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, said the Refugee Children’s Consortium.
The amendment to the UK Borders Bill will require the Border and Immigration Agency to have regard to a new statutory code of practice when dealing with children. It was one of a host of measures announced last week to improve the safety of children involved in the immigration system.
Lisa Nandy, chair of the consortium, which includes the Children’s Society and Save the Children UK, said that while the new legislation was a “big step forward”, it would not require the immigration service to promote children’s welfare as well as safeguarding them, unlike the Children Act duty.
The consortium has warned that the detention of children in immigration centres leaves them with poor access to education and a normal social life and can badly affect their well-being.
Nandy added that the code of practice was yet to be drawn up and that the content of this would be key to how the duty worked.
Lin Homer (pictured), chief executive at the Border and Immigration Agency, said that the government had “thought very carefully” about the new duty.
“We remain very committed to ensuring that we take the welfare of children into account but we are doing very different tasks to the other agencies [covered by the Children Act duty]. We are having to consider whether asylum-seeking children gain the right to stay. We couldn’t use the Children Act duty because it’s not appropriate for the tasks.”
Asylum measures for children and families
New government measures on improving support for asylum-seeking children and families include:
●A legal duty on the Border and Immigration Agency to keep asylumseeking children safe.
● Pilots looking at alternatives to detention for children.
● Proposals to improve the process of removal for families, including child protection awareness training for immigration staff.
● Regulations giving more support to vulnerable asylum-seekers earmarked for deportation but who cannot then be removed.
➔ Lisa Nandy will speak at a Community Care conference on improving support for asylum-seeking children on 10 July, which will examine legal protection and support for children in the immigration system including unaccompanied minors. More from www.lexisnexis.co.uk/conferencesandtraining/gatehouse/conferences.htm
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