Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

11.  Memorandum submitted by the Children's Society

  The Children's Society has been working with refugee and asylum-seeking children for the last 10 years and our practice base stretches across England, including centres in Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds, Oxford and London. In total we work with around 50,000 children a year and refugee children are one of the four groups of children that we prioritise, providing support, advice and help to access services. Currently around two-thirds of the refugee children we work with are unaccompanied, with the remainder arriving with family or guardians.


  Immigration policy and practice has become increasingly restrictive towards the children and young people we work with over the last 10 years. We would like to express the following particular current concerns to the committee relating to those involved specifically in the asylum system.

    1.  The granting or refusing of further leave to remain in the UK.

    2.  Appeals.

    3.  Detention policy and conditions.

    4.  Section 9 (the use of destitution to control immigration).

    5.  Immigration statistics.

  The IND's stated aims are to regulate entry and settlement in the interests of sustainable growth and social inclusion, and to operate a fair, fast and effective asylum system. The concerns outlined below demonstrate those aspects of immigration control which undermine social inclusion, do not provide a swift service to the most vulnerable applicants, subordinate the efficacy of decisions to the desire to make decisions quickly and, by doing so, undermine the effectiveness of the system.


  The restrictions on funding for legal work for immigration and asylum, introduced in April 2004, have had a detrimental impact on the children we work with. In our experience children may have to put in asylum claims without assistance because they can no longer find a solicitor. Unaccompanied minors can have particularly complex cases by virtue of their age and vulnerability. Their inability to access a solicitor—particularly for appeals—is to the detriment of reaching fair decisions.

  The emphasis on making decisions more quickly has been very successful and faster decisions, where they are thorough, are of great benefit to the children, young people and families we work with by giving them greater certainty, regardless of the outcome. However we are concerned about the high number of cases that are overturned on appeal—nearly one fifth (18%) of all appeals were allowed in the third quarter of 2005—suggesting that decisions are not necessarily of high quality. In our experience there are also a significant minority of unaccompanied children who wait for excessive periods for a decision. We would welcome some clarity from the IND about how they intend to address this.

  The introduction a five year initial grant of Indefinite Leave to Remain undermines other initiatives to promote social inclusion. The children and young people we work with are generally granted discretionary leave until the age of 18. If this is renewed for three years after 18, they may then apply for refugee status. This means that some young people may face 11 years of uncertainty about their future and through our work we deal with the effects of this uncertainty, including strong feelings of rejection, which can prevent young people from feeling accepted into society. We do not consider it necessary to take such a length of time to make a permanent decision on a claim for protection.


  We are particularly concerned that the appeals provisions in legislation currently before Parliament (clauses 1 and 11) further restrict appeal rights for unaccompanied children.

  Clause 1 removes the right of appeal against a refusal to vary leave and will have disproportionately affect unaccompanied and former unaccompanied children for whom an appeal against the decision to extend their leave is currently their only opportunity to raise their asylum claim before the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. Some of these children do not have a right to appeal against an initial decision to refuse them asylum on the basis that their leave to remain is one year or less. This includes children from designated "safe countries" and those given leave aged 17 until their 18th birthday. Their first opportunity to appeal against a refusal of asylum is when they are refused variation of their leave. These children will have no substantive appeal if the measures are implemented, and their only appeal will be against removal.

  In addition Clause 11 provides that all support will be cut-off when their leave expires. Unaccompanied children can take a great deal of time to trust a legal representative and facts may come to light late in the application process. Restricting appeal rights does not ensure their claims can be heard fairly. Combined with the difficulties accessing good quality legal advice, at it worst, this will mean that some children do not have an opportunity to articulate their claims for protection before they are returned to their country of origin where they may face persecution, (re)trafficking or loss of life.

  To operate an effective asylum system the appeals system must be geared towards those who comply with the system. We are concerned that these provisions undermine that principle.


  There is a wealth of evidence that detention of children is damaging and should not continue. [41]Although guidelines state children's welfare needs should be assessed after 21 days in detention a significant minority of children are detained for longer than this (in the snapshot taken in June 2005 15 of the 70 children detained on that day had been held with their families for between one and two months). [42]Children seeking asylum are the only group of children in the UK who can be deprived of their liberty without having committed a crime. Children who are detained are removed from the stability of school and friends and this can cause damage to the communities they have become part of.

  The conditions in detention centres are inappropriate for children[43], and detention centre and escort staff are excluded from Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 which gives them no requirement to safeguard and promote the welfare of children despite coming some staff coming into significant and regular contact with children. In reality it is very difficult for families to abscond and practitioners have expressed opinion that they are unlikely to do this. [44]We cannot see any reason to detain families, and recommend the use of tagging or reporting requirements where there are concerns about the risk of absconding.

  Age-disputed children are detained in adult prisons while age assessments take place exposing children to significant risk and violating a key principle of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). This practice should be ended. It cannot be the intention of government policy to inflict harm on children, damaging them and colouring their prospects of eventual integration into the UK.

  We also have concerns about the removal of automatic bail hearings for those in detention and that families are not always informed about welfare assessments carried out after 21 days in detention. We would welcome a requirement that families are kept fully informed about these assessments including the process for conducting them and the outcome. We have also worked with families who have grounds for complaint about their treatment by escort and detention centre staff but have little outlet to do this because Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons (HMCIP) is unable to investigate or act on individual complaints and there is no transparent mechanism for making complaints.


  Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Act 2004 attempts to encourage families to return voluntarily if their asylum claim has failed. It brings forward the time when support can be withdrawn from families to the point when their asylum claim fails. Previously support could only be withdrawn when a family failed to comply with removal directions. We consider this measure: unworkable—in that local authorities are being asked to make human rights assessments without guidance or training, ineffective—in that no family has yet returned voluntarily under the pilots, and inhumane, as it breaks up families and overrides the principles about the best interests of children in the Children Acts 1989 and 2004. We are very concerned about the use of destitution, particularly where is concerns children, as a tool for maintaining immigration control and do not consider it appropriate in a civilised country, nor is it effective. [45]


  We are concerned about the lack of data regarding children within the asylum process and do not see how an effective system can be established without this information. In particular we are concerned about the lack of statistics about numbers of children who are detained, and the length of time they are detained for, apart from snapshots which do not provide a clear picture. In addition we would welcome more use of the asylum statistics to promote positive images of asylum seekers. The current emphasis on falling asylum applications undermines social inclusion by reinforcing images of asylum applicants as opportunistic and unfounded, and gives the impression that large numbers of asylum seekers come to the UK each year when in reality the proportion is low compared to other countries—for example at the end of 2003 Britain was ranked eighth in Europe for the number of asylum applicants per head of the population. [46]


  We would like to see more priority given to the fairness of decisions. To summarise the above, this would include:

    —  Re-instating funding for legal work on unaccompanied children's claims, of more than five hours for initial advice and four for appeals. There are various mechanisms for this.

    —  We would welcome some clarity about how decisions can be made more quickly in complex cases without compromising their quality.

    —  The use of five year initial ILR should be ended.

    —  The appeals provisions in current legislation should not apply to unaccompanied children.

    —  Children should not be held in immigration detention.

    —  Automatic bail hearings should be reinstated.

    —  Families should be kept fully informed about welfare assessments.

    —  A transparent and effective complaints process should be established for those who are detained.

    —  We would welcome robust and regular statistics on the number of children in detention and a more positive use of existing data.

  It is our view that children's welfare should not be subordinate to maintaining an effective immigration system where the two conflict, and that there is much more room within the current system for both to co-exist, if the reforms outlined above were implemented.

Lisa Nandy

Policy Adviser

6 December 2005

41   Crawley and Lester, No Place For a Child, Save the Children, 2005. Back

42   As at 25 June 2005. Asylum Statistics. Home Office. Back

43   See successive reports from HMIP. Back

44   No Place For a ChildBack

45   Kelley and Meldegard, The End Of The Road, Barnardos, 2005. Back

46   Peach and Henson, Key Statistics About Asylum Seeker Arrivals in the UK, ICAR, 2005. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 17 July 2006