This week the Illegal Migration Bill finished its passage through parliament and will soon get Royal Assent and become the Illegal Migration Act. As I have set out since its introduction, I am deeply concerned about the impact it will have on children’s rights and experiences. The relaxation of rules around detention. The lack of safeguards around Home Office accommodation. The inability for children to seek asylum. The removal of children at eighteen and the potential undermining of the Children Act 1989. It will mean that children fleeing war and persecution, and children who have been trafficked here, will no longer be able to claim asylum.
I have appreciated the forensic scrutiny it received in the House of Lords, with real concern shown about the impact on children. And am grateful to members across both Houses for their work in making sure children’s voices and needs are prioritised. Without the opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny it is unfortunate this has had to happen during the passage of the Bill.
I do welcome the small changes around the detention of pregnant women and unaccompanied children. But the impact the Act will have on children is still not fully understood. There has not been sufficient time to consider the implementation. Keeping children safe from harm, receiving care, should be a guiding principle for everything.
As Children’s Commissioner, with a duty to protect and promote the rights of the most vulnerable children, I am troubled and saddened by the fact that the children who most need help and protection will be refused it.
To make sure I hear directly from the children impacted, today my latest visit as part of my regular programme of visits to the contingency accommodation. I spoke to boys and girls as young as 12 in both the Home Office accommodation and at the Kent Intake Unit. These children are children first and foremost and need to be treated as such, with all the safeguards that are enshrined in the Children Act 1989.
To fulfil my duty as Children’s Commisioner I have made regular visits to the contingency accommodation for unaccompanied children and requested routine data on safeguarding practices across the settings. It is now three months since my letter to the Home Secretary requesting data on the safeguarding procedures in place across contingency hotel accommodation for unaccompanied children. This unprecedented delay has already impeded the exercise of my statutory primary function of promoting and protecting the rights of children in England.
As the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, I will continue to push for urgent answers to the questions I have raised about how the Act will be implemented in practice. I remain unconvinced that it is possible for the Act to be implemented in a way that is compatible with the Children Act.
I will therefore maintain a relentless focus on pushing for the changes to be reversed. I will keep visiting children arriving in the UK and advocating for their needs to be met and their rights upheld. I will continue to call for everyone across government and the sector to recognise the vulnerability of children. It is my mission to ensure that children who need help and protection get the support they need and begin to thrive.