Children's Commissioner and asylum-seeking children commend Kent County Council and ask UKBA to draw on its good practice
9 February 2011
Children's Commissioner for England Maggie Atkinson today announced her intention to continue dialogue with the UK Borders Agency (UKBA) and the Government and recommend: a review of the policy of returning children to the EU country where they were first fingerprinted, appropriate adult support during immigration interviews with children, and a reconsideration of plans to send 16 and 17 year old Afghans back to Kabul.
Giving a keynote speech to the Refugee Council, Dr Atkinson launched her office's report Landing in Kent. The report resulted from Dr Atkinson and staff visiting young asylum seekers and listening to their concerns in very good local authority provision at Millbank Reception and Assessment Centre* in Immigration Minister, Damian Green's Kent constituency .
The report also looks at what the boys at Millbank told the Children's Commissioner about their journeys to England and their experiences on arrival. Detailed recommendations to UKBA and the Government, arising from these boys' specific circumstances, include:
- That the Government should review the UK's actions on an EU-wide policy of returning children to the country in which they were first fingerprinted, rather than dealing with their asylum claim here. Young people told us that authorities in some European countries had not always believed their stated ages. In some cases they had beaten or imprisoned them, had not enabled them to claim asylum, or had given them papers telling them to leave without considering their child protection needs.
- That UKBA should ensure children are never interviewed about matters other than basic personal details without an appropriate adult being present. Some children spoke of lengthy interviews without either an appropriate adult present, or legal advice. Information provided through such interviews can lead to criminal prosecution, or be used to discredit fuller information which is given once the claimant has legal advice. However, the situation appeared to be improving, as a group of later arrivals said they had not experienced this lack of appropriate care.
- That the Government should reconsider plans to send 16 and 17 year old Afghans back to Kabul, unless it is safe and in their best interests. Young Afghans had heard about a proposed new policy to return them to Kabul. They were scared, and questioned whether the UK Government could assure their safety.
*Millbank, operated by Kent County Council, provides initial accommodation for up to 30 newly arrived unaccompanied asylum-seeking boys aged 16 and 17. It provides facilities to enable them to recover from the experiences they have undergone prior to arrival in the UK.
One boy told Dr Atkinson "staff really cared for us and helped us since we arrived."
Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England said:
"The treatment of vulnerable children in the immigration system is an important marker of our behaviour as a civilised society. I was one of the first to welcome the Government's early commitment to end the detention of children for immigration purposes. Now we need to look at services where young asylum seekers are not detained but sent to a place of safety and care, and at their treatment when they first arrive in the UK. Millbank is exemplary, indeed we say in our report the best we have seen. The centre should be commended for creating an atmosphere that feels more like a home than an institution. Young people showed real warmth towards the staff.
"We continue to have more general and wider concerns about how the system deals with asylum seeking children when they arrive in the UK. We remain in dialogue with UKBA and the Government to continue to examine these issues, and UKBA has made it clear that it welcomes scrutiny and is striving to get these complex matters right.
For example, children deserve appropriate adult support when they are interviewed by officials, support such as any adult would expect for their own children.
Finally, the policy of sending children back to the first European country they entered should be reviewed. As things stand, someone identified as a child here can end up in a European country where they were considered, and therefore treated, as an adult."
Notes to editors
1. The Children's Commissioner for England was established under The Children Act 2004 to be the independent voice of children and young people and to champion their interests and bring their concerns and views to the national arena. The Commissioner's work must take regard of children's rights (the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) and seek to improve the wellbeing of children and young people.
2. Article 22 of the UNCRC specifically refers to signatories' responsibilities towards children seeking refugee status. It states countries must provide children with 'appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance' in the enjoyment of applicable rights set forth in UNCRC.
3. The Children's Commissioner for England is the only national statutory organisation in England with the power to enter places where children are living, other than private homes, to interview them in private which reports on issues from the child's perspective. We can also ask organisations about which we have reported to respond to our recommendations and initiate inquiries into cases where they raise issues of public policy relevance to other children.
4. The full report is available to download here.
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