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MPs Call For "Blanket" Ban On Detaining And Removing Child Asylum Seekers

(Alamy)

3 min read

A cross-party committee of MPs has called for a "blanket" ban on detaining and removing asylum seeking children to Rwanda, which their chair says goes further than other previous interventions on the government’s controversial policy.

The Women and Equalities committee is asking the government to rule out any intention to detain or forcibly remove asylum seeking children to Rwanda, as part of their report into the UK asylum process, published today.

The investigation looked at legislation across the government’s asylum plans, including the Nationality and Borders Act, the UK Rwanda deal and the Illegal Migration Bill still making its way through Parliament. 

Committee chair Caroline Nokes told PoliticsHome that she has “really grave concerns” about the government's approach to asylum seeking children, and thinks the new legislation could see itself coming up against the long-standing Children Act. 

"The government is still talking about removing unaccompanied children when they turn 18," she explained.

"It's refusing to rule out removing children that are accompanied, and so you could very easily have a situation where you've got the Children Act coming headlong up against the Illegal Migration Bill."

She added: "I think our report is fundamentally saying to the government, you need to think again on the whole idea of removing children and recognise that they are entitled to protection under the law in this country." 

When later asked if she thought the committe's report goes beyond interventions already made on the issue, Nokes said: "We have said a blanket children should not be detained and children should not be removed to Rwanda. I think that probably does go further than anything else that we've seen so far.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made it one of the government's five priorities to stop small boat crossings and reduce the number of people illegally crossing the Channel. 

PoliticsHome has previously reported on attempts members across the parties and Houses to alter the Illegal Migration Bill, in particular how it affects children. 

These have included a Labour peer’s proposal to exempt unaccompanied children from being made inadmissible, and the government’s acceptance of Conservative MP Tim Loughton’s proposed amendment, which sought to restrict powers to remove unaccompanied children from the country.

The Illegal Migration Bill is expected back in the House of Lords on Wednesday when it will begin its report stage, usually the time when peers bring forward amendments for votes. 

Nokes told PoliticsHome that she personally "was very keen that our report referenced all children, not just unaccompanied children" and later said that she thinks members across Parliament “feel very strongly that we have a duty to protect children”. 

She predicted that a number of amendments involving children would pass the second chamber in the coming weeks, and will end up in a so-called ‘ping-pong’ with the Commons, where the Houses keep amending one anothers work. 

The report also raises concerns about the housing of vulnerable people as part of government schemes – including single women, mothers, and people who are LGBT – and MPs are asking for an "urgent review" of safeguards for vulnerable people in asylum accommodation.

They also say that the temporary accommodations are “unacceptable” and have called for risk assessments to be made of all accommodation facilities before women, families, children or LGBT people at risk of hate crime are housed alongside single men.  

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Through the Illegal Migration Bill, we will stop the boats by detaining those who come to the UK illegally, and swiftly returning them to a safe third country or their home country. It is only right that we protect the most vulnerable by not creating incentives for criminal gangs to target specific groups.

“We have amended the Bill to make clear that an unaccompanied child under 18 can only be removed in very limited circumstances. Where a removal decision is made, detention will be for the shortest possible time with necessary support provisions in place.”

 

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