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Growing Calls For "Flexibility" On Child Migrant Rights As Sudan Crisis Escalates

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman set out plans to reduce Channel crossings under the Illegal Migration Bill (Alamy)

4 min read

The Government is under mounting pressure over rights for child migrants after Conservative MPs and human rights bodies suggested children fleeing Sudan could face deportation under a new UK law.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman have set out plans to reduce illegal Channel crossings under the Illegal Migration Bill. The legislation, which will be debated in the House of Commons on Wednesday, would stop anyone from arriving in the UK illegally from claiming asylum.

But a growing number of Tory backbenchers have warned the new Illegal Migration Bill could fail to protect children and people with protected characteristics who arrive in the UK from war-torn countries.

Conservative MP David Simmonds told PoliticsHome the conflict in Sudan demonstrates the importance of having a “flexible” and compassionate policy towards refugees.

“The emerging situation in Sudan powerfully demonstrates the importance of having a flexible policy so we can respond to the emerging needs of those with a connection to the UK, and adapt our removals policy in the light of events in other countries,” he told PoliticsHome.

Tory MP Flick Drummond, who is in favour of amending the Illegal Migration Bill, said detaining children from places like Sudan is "not acceptable" and incompatible with Britain's long history of "giving refuge to the vulnerable".

Although Drummond supports the Government's desire to stop the small boats, she told PoliticsHome it must have more flexibility to help "genuine asylum seekers".

"Safe routes can be part of the solution to stop trafficking and people smuggling business models like those operating over the channel. I fully grant this is a complex problem that needs a tough response but, without flexibility, I fear it may not be effective, it may certainly be morally questionable and possibly even illegal under international law," she added

A senior Tory source told PoliticsHome they believed changes to the Bill are “probably inevitable” and will face issues in the House of Lords. They believed that Sudan, however, was a "red herring", but still expected updates that would address similar crises. "If it is not Sudan it will be another place that is an issue," they said. 

They added it is likely the Prime Minister and Home Secretary will have to “accommodate” a change to the Bill because the legislation needs to make sure there are safe routes for asylum seekers.

In the House of Commons, Conservative MP Tim Loughton led a rebellion with the support of Labour against the Bill which tried to get the Government to concede on providing “safe and legal” routes for refugees to seek asylum.  

The amendment was not accepted, but Loughton said the government “moved in the right direction” and claimed he would try to force through more amendments.

Two more Tory MPs told Politico on Tuesday they believe the Government will compromise over Tim Loughton’s amendment to the Illegal Migration Bill.

But despite mounting pressure, Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick used a speech on Tuesday morning to double down on the Government’s policy, claiming the proposals were the “only workable way” of stemming the tide of Channel crossings.

He told a Policy Exchange event that he believed the debate has been “dominated by humanitarian Nimbyism” whereby devolved Government’s do not take their fair share of refugees.

The Government minister promised he was also “taking a power to detain and remove unaccompanied children in very limited circumstances".

"I know that I will not allow the United Kingdom to become a magnet for people smugglers, specialising in children," he added.

The Institute for Public Policy Research, a think tank, said the situation in Sudan “highlights” the fact that “lots of people are fleeing conflict and persecution”.

“The concern we have is that safe and legal routes are very fragmented, there are some very generous routes from people coming across from Ukraine," Associate Director for Migration Marley Morris for IPPR told PoliticsHome.

"There are some safe and legal routes for some Afghans but there are not many routes for other countries. Sudan demonstrates the fact that these routes are not available for people outside these situations.

“It is pretty clear this legislation would make it far harder from people from Sudan to claim asylum from the UK.

“It seems likely that the Government will not be removing children in most cases who are unaccompanied. And indeed it has limited the power to detain them. It has not said it will accept their asylum claim.

“[But] It looks like asylum seekers would be put into the national transfer scheme unaccompanied, looked after by the local authority until they turn 18. But at that stage they still would not have their asylum claim assessed and that is the danger for children who are effective.”

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