Home Affairs CommitteeCorrespondence from the Children’s Commissioner for England

Gentleman’s Agreement

I hope that you will have had an opportunity to look at the latest report from the Children’s Commissioner for England entitled Landing in Dover. If not, I attach a copy with this letter for ease of reference.1 I would particularly draw your attention to Appendix’s 3 and 4 which contain a copy of the “Gentleman’s Agreement”2 and associated memos and the correspondence between the Commissioner and Rob Whiteman3 on the issue.

You will note from the correspondence that we have asked for historic data on the use of the agreement in respect of children. This has not been forthcoming to date. You will also note that we remain concerned about its potential use in “age disputed” cases given that the commitment from the UK Border Agency is a unilateral one and has not involved any renegotiation of the agreement with our French colleagues.

Although the evidence we have relates only to Vietnamese children (who may not claim asylum on account of having been trafficked into the UK—normally to work as “gardeners” in Cannabis factories) we remain concerned that the agreement may have been used in the past to prevent access to the UK territory for those wishing to claim asylum. We can not of course prove this but there is a certain amount of circumstantial evidence to suggest it.

In particular, when we visited the Asylum Screening Unit in Croydon in 2007 we “tracked” an Afghan boy through the screening process and were surprised to find that there was a Eurodak fingerprint match with Poole in Dorset from a few weeks previously. It appears likely that this child was returned to Cherbourg and then managed to re-enter the country and make his way to the ASU.

We are keen to find out the extent of the use of this agreement—in particular in relation to children who may not always articulate an asylum claim to the immigration officer on arrival.

You should also know that we have taken Counsel’s advice on the status and application of the agreement in respect of children and received a strong opinion that it was unlawful due to the conflict with the duty to safeguard children and promote their welfare.

I was wondering whether there might be an interest on the part of the Home Affairs Select Committee in running a short inquiry into the use of the agreement. There are some surprising elements that have not yet come to light publicly. Although it was clear that Rob Whiteman had no knowledge of the agreement before we alerted him to it, I was somewhat surprised that Hugh Ind, Director of London and the South East, also told us that he was unaware of its existence. How this could be the case is very perplexing and worrying. Furthermore, there was an indication from Mr Whiteman in his conversation with the Commissioner that a parallel agreement existed with Belgium. We have not had sight of any other bi-lateral agreements nor any guarantees that any other such agreements would not be used to remove children who failed to articulate an asylum claim.

If you would like to discuss these matters further, please do not hesitate to contact me.

January 2012

1 Not printed

2 Not printed

3 Not printed

Prepared 10th April 2012