Open Forum

New laws have only served to exacerbate the confusion over the rights of young asylum seekers, writes Lisa Nandy

The new Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act is a mixed bag of measures and a missed chance to consolidate the confusing array of asylum legislation. The result will be continuing confusion over the rights and entitlements of refugee and asylum-seeking children.

One positive measure that should be welcomed is the progress towards ending section nine of the Asylum and Immigration Act 2004, which has left some families destitute.

At least refugee children younger than 10 need no longer prove their “good character” for British citizenship, the government now accepting it is too much to ask a child to prove they have sufficient, positive qualifying attributes.

Failed asylum-seeking families who cannot be returned on safety grounds or are too ill to travel can now buy items other than food, such as medicines and baby clothes, with the subsistence vouchers they receive. But they must still live on 35 a week and suffer the humiliating effect of using vouchers, as councils will no longer have the discretion to give them cash.

The proposal to revoke all appeal rights from some unaccompanied children was at least removed from the act. But unaccompanied children must still navigate a bureaucratic and complex asylum system that makes no concessions for the fact they are children.

Also, there are some potentially harmful measures, such as allowing private firms to conduct immigration searches at ports of entry without necessarily being trained in handling vulnerable, frightened children, or being checked for criminal records.

Finally the act represents a missed chance to bring in proper safeguards for children, automatic bail for detainees and a duty for the National Asylum Support Service and the Immigration Service to consider children’s welfare when carrying out their duties.

Overall this act serves to underline the fact that when it comes to refugee children, every child does not matter.

Lisa Nandy, policy adviser, Refugee Children, The Children’s Society

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