asylum bill goes against many of the government’s equality policies, says
Pamela Fitzpatrick of the Family Rights Group.
is difficult to imagine how things could be any tougher for asylum seeker
children. Asylum seekers cannot work, cannot claim benefit, and are dispersed
away from the South East. Yet it seems that things are getting tougher.
The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill,
passing rapidly through parliament, should be a cause of great concern for
anyone working with children. The bill proposes to place asylum seeker families
in accommodation centres containing up to 750 people. They would be educated
separately and prevented from integrating with local children.
The government states that families would
remain in these camp-like centres for a maximum of six months, by which time
their application for asylum will be determined. Historically, such targets
have never been met and there is no reason to believe that they will be in the
future. Families are therefore likely to remain isolated from mainstream
society for lengthy periods.
Similar camps are already in use in Australia
and have been severely criticised. Amnesty International Australia has said
that such environments are inadequate to meet the special needs of any child,
let alone those who have suffered human rights abuses and the trauma of fleeing
their homes. It has also raised concern that children in such centres may be at
heightened risk of abuse. Furthermore, the UN High Commission for Refugees has
stated that the refugees most at risk of sexual violence are children in
detention or detention-like situations.
The problems are obvious. Many of the adults
in these camps will be suffering mental health problems. Their children need to
be able to interact with their peers in mainstream schools so that there is
some normality and stability to their lives.
The stance of the government is difficult to
comprehend. In 1986 the Commission for Racial Equality conducted a formal
investigation into Calderdale local education authority, which was providing
separate education for children arriving from the Indian subcontinent. The
practice was found to be unlawful.
Following the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, all
institutions should be aware of the need to examine policies and practices to
eliminate racism. The enactment of the bill will mean such discrimination is
enshrined in legislation, giving a worrying message to society.
The Children Act 1989 places obligations on
local authorities to protect and provide for vulnerable children. The bill
appears to fly in the face of these safeguards and negates the work of the
Lawrence and Climbie inquiries. It also seems at odds with the spirit of the
Race Relations Amendment Act.
The proposals can only lead to more children
being placed at risk of serious harm. It is a piece of legislation that we
should all be ashamed of.