The government has been forced to make heavy concessions over controversial legislation to remove support from failed asylum-seeking families after a Home Office review found it had failed.
Immigration Minister Liam Byrne admitted today that Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Act 2004 had not achieved the government’s aim of getting asylum-seekers to co-operate with their removal from the UK.
He made the statement as he published the long-awaited review of a pilot of section 9 across London, Leeds and Manchester between December 2004 and December 2005, with results updated from this month.
It found that contrary to the government’s aims, the policy had not led to a significant increase in the number of voluntary returns or removals of asylum-seeking families. Just one out of the 116 families under the pilot was removed.
The policy also failed to influence the behaviour of asylum-seekers to get them to co-operate with being removed, although there was some increase in the number of applications made for travel documents.
The review also found that 32 of the families under the pilot had absconded from their accommodation “because of concerns about the section 9 process.”
Councils had difficulties in reconciling what they considered to be “conflicting principles” of child welfare and section 9, and organisations expressed an overall concern for families who had absconded and the effect of the process on children. The pilot also placed “significant” demands on councils’ resources.
The review also found that no children had been taken into care as the direct result of the pilot.
In a ministerial statement to parliament, Byrne said the pilot “did not significantly influence [asylum-seeker’s] behaviour in co-operating with removal” and said section 9 should not be used on an “indiscriminate” basis by immigration officials in future.
“While it [section 9] will not be suitable on a blanket basis, it is important that we retain an ability to withdraw support from families who are wilfully not co-operating with the process,” Byrne said. He added that immigration caseworkers would have to work closely with “appropriate” local authority officials if they wanted to consider using section 9.
Children’s charity Barnardo’s called section 9 “an inhumane and confused approach” to asylum-seeking families, and called for it to be repealed. A spokesperson said: “Leaving the measure on the statute books for possible use on an occasional basis is unacceptable. “
Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, claimed the government had “effectively admitted defeat” on section 9.
“The policy wasn’t working and was causing a lot of fear. We would have liked to see section 9 scrapped altogether, but having campaigned for so long against the policy we are pleased that the minister has looked at the evidence and arguments and taken action,” she said.
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