Legality of plans to deport asylum-seeking Afghan children questioned

Proposals to return unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to Afghanistan could be unlawful, Coram Children's Legal Centre has warned.
Government says returns will only occur if a young person's family can be located or appropriate support is in place. Image: Nathan Clarke
Government says returns will only occur if a young person's family can be located or appropriate support is in place. Image: Nathan Clarke
The government is considering renewed plans to start repatriating 16- and 17-year-old Afghan children whose asylum applications have been refused.

As part of this, the Home Office is working with a project called the European Return Platform for Unaccompanied Minors (ERPUM), which "aims to find new methods for the return of unaccompanied minors who need to return home after receiving a final rejection of their asylum application".
But Syd Bolton, co-director of the Refugee Children’s Rights Project at Coram Children’s Legal Centre, said any move to return 16- and 17-year-olds to a conflict zone would break the law.
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"We would be concerned about any programme to develop forcible returns for children, unless the government can demonstrate that their asylum decision-making processes meet the needs and the best interests of asylum-seeking children, from the beginning of the process all the way through to appeals," he said.
"Unless there is an explicit recognition that the best interests of the child are the primary consideration in any arrangement designed to enable a child to be returned to their country of origin, it could be unlawful.
"There is a statutory duty on the UK Border Agency to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. We cannot see how sending children back to a zone, which by all objective evidence is still a conflict zone, is in their best interests."
A statement for the Home Office said the government is yet to decide whether or not to return any unaccompanied minors to Afghanistan.

"Returns will only occur if their families can be located or appropriate support and care arrangements are in place," the statement added.
Maggie Atkinson, children’s commissioner for England, said she would monitor the situation, but welcomed the fact that the current policy of discretionary leave will remain in place for now.
"We will continue to closely monitor the situation as we have serious concerns over returning children to Afghanistan where the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has reported widespread breaches of children’s rights, including the sexual exploitation of young boys," she said. "We will be ready to engage with the Home Office if the current policy were to change in the future." (


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