Memorandum submitted by the Refugee Children's
The Refugee Children's Consortium works collaboratively
to ensure that the rights and needs of refugee children
are promoted, respected and met in accordance with the relevant
domestic, regional and international standards, in particular:
The United Nations 1951 Convention relating
to the Status of Refugees.
Our response is concerned with refugee and asylum
seeking children, although it has implications for other groups
of children such as those who have been trafficked.
There have been two positive developments in
relation to the treatment of asylum seeking children:
the removal of the UK's immigration reservation
to the Convention on the Rights of the Child; and
the introduction of c21 of the UK Borders
Act 2007 and a subsequent commitment to introduce a duty equivalent
to section 11 of the Children Act 2004 in the Borders, Citizenship
and Immigration Bill currently before Parliament.
However despite this progress asylum seeking
and refugee children still face substantial inequality of treatment.
These are now the only children who do not have any formal link
with the Department for Children, Schools and Families.
The result is:
a substantial loss of expertise in policy
a growing gap between treatment of children
generally and the treatment of asylum seeking children; and
the primacy of immigration control over
children's best interests.
While the welfare of children rests with a department
that has no targets in relation to the treatment of children,
and objectives that often run counter to children's best interests,
it is difficult to see how the standard of treatment set out in
Article 3 of the CRC (primacy of a child's welfare) will ever
We believe the lack of statistics relating to
refugee children is a serious omission. The most pressing example
is that there are no published statistics to show how many children
are detained with their families, where or for how long and information
is not recorded about age disputed children in detention. For
example Ann Owers reports:
"Other centres, including Yarl's Wood, had
no accurate record of length of detention: indeed, we were initially
told that some children had spent 275 days in detention, only
to be informed later that this was a recording error and the figure
should have been 14 and 17 days."
The UKBA cannot be confident they are keeping
children safe in accordance with c21 of the UK Borders Act 2007
without this information. We are also concerned about the reliance
on management information which is not considered robust enough
to publish but is routinely used as a basis for policy development.
We strongly welcome the Government's decision
to withdraw the reservation to the Convention on the Rights of
the Child but we were alarmed to learn that according to Phil
Woolas "no additional changes to legislation, guidance or
practice are currently envisaged."
The remainder of this response sets out the key areas in which
we believe the Government falls short of international and national
standards for the treatment of children.
Children in families continue to be detained
for significant lengths of time with no judicial oversight, contrary
to both Article 37 of the CRC and the Government's own policy.
We agree with Ann Owers that:
"The detention of children, sometimes for
lengthy periods and too often without effective monitoring of
the length of detention, remains a major concern, and is ripe
for review, as the UK removes its immigration reservation to the
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child."
We are aware that pregnant women and new mothers
still do not always have access to adequate nutrition in contravention
of Article 24 of the CRC.
We increasingly come into contact with families
where the UKBA has avoided detaining the child by separating the
family and detaining the parent(s). This has been put forward
as their preferred approach.
This is clearly not in accordance with Article 9 of the CRC, it
is extremely damaging to the family and in some cases may seriously
expose to the child to harm. We are unconvinced by the Government's
position that this practice is consistent with Article 8 of the
We remain extremely concerned about the fact
that there are age disputed young people in detention. The detention
of children is directly counter to Article 37, yet RCC members
routinely uncover instances of children detained with adults.
Of 165 age dispute cases dealt with at Oakington by the Refugee
Council in 2005, 89 (53.9%) turned out to be children. In another
period over 72% were determined to be children. We urge the Committee
to investigate why age disputed young people are still detained,
why these cases are not recorded (either upon entry or if they
come to light while a young person is being held) and why there
is no adequate or transparent process for dealing with an allegation
that a child is held in detention as an adult.
We welcome the Code of Practice to keep children
safe from harm issued under c21 of the UK Borders Act 2007 although
it is too soon to assess its impact. To a large extent this will
depend on the efforts made by the UK Border Agency to roll it
out, particularly to private contractors such as escort services
and private accommodation providers about whom we have very serious
concerns. For example, the Medical Foundation for the Care of
Victims of Torture recently highlighted serious cases of families
in inadequate, unsafe accommodation.
We are also keen to see a well developed policing mechanism to
ensure the Code is adhered to. We would welcome a commitment that
all staff including contractors will be trained in how to use
the Code, a deadline by which this will be rolled out and more
information about how the Code will be policed.
We strongly support the Government's commitment
to ending child poverty. However asylum seeking children are not
counted for the purposes of the child poverty measure and as a
result they have been entirely excluded from efforts to raise
children's standard of living. In fact, the direction of travel
has been in precisely the opposite direction for this group of
children. We remain strongly opposed to section 9 of the Asylum
& Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Act 2004 and urge
the Committee to press Government to remove this from the statute
books. This provision can be achieved without the need for further
legislation under section 44 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality
Act 2006. RCC members are supporting increasing numbers of destitute
children with families, age disputed young people and unaccompanied
minors who become 18.
The Government is currently considering how to reform
the support regime for all asylum applicants including families.
We are alarmed by suggestions that a new support regime may aim
to remove support from unaccompanied children at their most vulnerable
time at 18, and may enable Government to remove support from families
at any stage in the process if they are deemed to be non-compliant.
We maintain that child destitution is inconsistent with Article
8 of the ECHR and is neither necessary, proportionate or humane.
Further, the Government's position that child destitution is necessary
because of the actions of parents is in clear breach of Article
2.1 of the CRCthat children are protected against punishment
or discrimination on the basis of their parent's actions.
We remain opposed to the use of x-rays in determining
age and we would like to draw the Committee's attention to the
opinion of Nick Blake QC and Charlotte Kilroy, relating specifically
to the use of x-rays, that: "No individual, and in particular
no child, can lawfully be `subjected' to a medical examination.
This would be an assault."
Obtaining informed consent from a child is a
highly specialist skill, and more so when the question is around
something so fundamental to identity as age. We endorse the independent
regional age assessment centre model put forward by the Immigration
Law Practitioners Report, When is A Child Not a Child.
The RCC was represented on the Government's age assessment working
group which met for the last time in August. We have not had any
further information since this time and we would welcome clarity
about the Government's plans.
We have seen no progress in relation to our
concerns about education and in particular the difficulties children
face accessing and participating fully in education because of
the demands of the immigration and asylum support processes.
Article 22 of the 1951 Convention sets out that refugees
should have the same access to elementary education and remission
of fees, but it is in practice difficult for them to achieve this.
For example we are aware from our practice that some young people
who arrive in the UK at the ages of 14 or 15 are placed into pupil
referral units or sixth form colleges rather than mainstream school.
Restrictions on financial support based on immigration status
and/or length of residence prevent many children from having any
opportunity to achieve their Article 29 rights under the CRC.
We remain very concerned about the Government's
intention to forcibly return unaccompanied asylum seeking children.
We have been told that the UKBA is now working with the Foreign
and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development
to achieve this. We believe returns of children should only ever
take place where it is proven to be in a child's best interests
in accordance with Article 3 of the CRC. We understand that the
DCSF is not involved in this which sends out a worrying signal.
We cannot see how the Government intends to realise children's
rights under Article 3 without the involvement of the DCSF.
449 The term "refugee children" is used here
to mean: children seeking asylum, those with refugee status or
leave to remain, those within families or in the U.K. without
their usual caregiver. The focus will be on those children under
18, but may include elder siblings of the above and those who,
although over 18 are still entitled to services under The Children
(Leaving Care) Act.
The only link that we are aware of is through the looked after
children status of some children seeking asylum, but the policy
framework for unaccompanied asylum seeking children and other
looked after children varies widely. Back
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales Annual Report
Hansard, 24 November 2008. Back
HM Chief Inpsector of Prisons for England and Wales 2007-08. Back
Border and Immigration Agency Code of Practice for Keeping Children
Safe from Harm Consultation-Pro Forma for Responses, 25 April
BBC News, UK "failing" victims of torture, 10 December
See for example, Living on the Edge of Despair, The Children's
Society 2008. Back
7 November 2007. Back
Crawley, H. May 2007. Back
The Children's Society. Back