Confusion over how asylum-seeking children are treated in the UK care system is expected to end with the government’s long-awaited decision to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in full.
The move will give the same protection to children seeking asylum as all other children in the UK. For the past 17 years the government has opted out of applying the ‘best interest’ rule to asylum-seeking children, motivated by concern that it would impact on immigration measures.
The foreign secretary David Miliband is expected to sign the convention when he appears before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva this week.
Children’s rights groups have been campaigning to remove the reservations, which they claim have led to some children being detained for long periods, deliberately made destitute and barred from accessing care and health services.
Lisa Nandy, policy adviser at the Children’s Society, said: “There is tremendous confusion over the rights and entitlements and a lot of the time social care professionals wrongly assume children are not entitled to support. This move is significant as it sends out the message that they should be treated as any other child.”
Speaking on behalf of the four UK children’s commissioners, commissioner for England Al Aynsley-Green said: “We have been concerned that this particularly vulnerable group of children have been exposed to a draconian system for too long.
Treated ‘like criminals’
“Often they have fled terrible situations in their home country, seeking sanctuary here, only to find themselves detained and treated in such a way that they felt as if they were criminals.”
Martin Narey, chief executive of Barnardo’s, added: “It is imperative that these children are seen as children first and asylum-seekers second.”
Expert guide to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children