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Home Office Accused Of "Toxic and Indifferent" Approach To Safeguarding Asylum Seekers

Asylum seekers at the Manston processing centre (Alamy)

3 min read

A shadow minister has said that the Home Office’s approach to the safeguarding of asylum seekers appears to be “based on a toxic combination of incompetence and indifference,” as the safety of children arriving in the UK has been called into question.

MPs have raised concerns about the protections in place for children and vulnerable people seeking asylum being placed in temporary accommodation, as the Home Office and subcontractors have scrambled to move people out of the Manston processing centre following reports of poor conditions and overcrowding. 

Stephen Kinnock, Labour’s shadow minister for immigration, has accused the Home Secretary of having “completely lost control” of asylum safeguarding, while a charity leader has said that the public wants to “see children treated with care and dignity”. 

MPs have previously asked Home Office ministers to publish the requirements it puts on private contractors when it comes to safeguarding, in order to be able to hold companies to account if they are not making the grade. Kinnock has now told PoliticsHome that he wants to see more detail on what measures the government has in place to ensure that private companies are providing relevant safeguarding. 

“The Home Secretary has completely lost control of asylum safeguarding. 222 children have gone missing and there have been horrific stories of criminal abuse,” the MP for Aberavon said.

“The government’s approach appears to be based on a toxic combination of incompetence and indifference. 

“We need to understand more about what the government is doing to ensure private contractors are meeting their child safeguarding obligations, and whether ministers will review these contractual obligations to ensure they are robust enough.”

His comments follow similar remarks by Stella Creasy, the MP for Walthamstow, who told the Commons last week that “concerns about the safeguarding experience of private contractors are legion”.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants wants the system improved to ensure that children are able to travel safely and be protected. 

Mary Atkinson, campaigns officer at the JCWI explained: “We know that the public wants to see children treated with care and dignity. But recent weeks have seen children crying out for help at Manston, wrongly identified as adults by the authorities and now it’s emerged they’re being put into adult accommodation. 

“This dangerous and neglectful practice puts children at risk of abuse – it must end now.

“What we need is a fair, compassionate and functioning asylum policy that allows people fleeing danger – including children – to travel here safely, get protection, and settle quickly within our communities." 

A Home Office spokesperson said in a statement: “The wellbeing of children in our care is our absolute priority, which is why we are reforming age assessments through the Nationality and Borders Act to make them more consistent and robust by using scientific measures.

“Age assessments are challenging but vital to identifying genuine asylum seeking children and stop abuse of the system. 

“We are taking a holistic approach to prevent adults claiming to be children, or children being wrongly treated as adults – as both present serious safeguarding risks to children.”

Earlier this month, PoliticsHome reported that support workers tasked with implementing the government's plans for rehousing refugees had accused the government of a "lack of coordination" resulting in a system that is "chaotic" and putting local services under pressure.

The Local Government Association called for ministers to make sure that they are not “concentrating” hotel use in certain places while other areas of the country might be better able to accommodate people. 

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