Fears raised over treatment of asylum-seeking children

Asylum-seeking children have been routinely sent back to France within 24 hours under a "gentlemen's agreement", contrary to the requirement to safeguard their welfare, a report by the children's commissioner for England has revealed.

The Landing in Dover report states that the agreement between the UK and France enabled unaccompanied children to be sent back to France within 24 hours if they did not immediately ask for asylum, resulting in a "significant failure" of child protection.

The process has since ended after being brought to the attention of the chief executive of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) Rob Whiteman, although the report also flags up continuing concerns around children’s treatment in Dover.

It found that children were generally not fit for important assessment interviews due to illness, hunger, tiredness, fear or a combination of these factors.

Meanwhile, the length of time between children being placed in detention and subsequently being released into care was too long.

The report also recommends the use of face-to-face interpreters rather than telephone interpreters for interviews other than for gathering basic details about the child’s identity.

It also calls for moves to ensure that when immigration interviews do take place, children have had the chance to gain support from a legal representative and that their representative is able to accompany them, along with a responsible adult.

Children’s commissioner Maggie Atkinson said: "Children arriving unaccompanied in the UK are some of the most vulnerable that my office and society encounters.

"That is why we have continued to investigate how they are dealt with, working constructively with UKBA, to improve their treatment.

"My office will continue to work with the key agencies in the county to achieve the best outcomes for children and to ensure UKBA delivers on the commitments it has given me.

"We believe that immediate referral by UKBA or the police to the local authority is essential in order to give effect to the ‘best interests’ principle."

Enver Solomon, policy director at The Children’s Society said the report provides "clear and depressing evidence" that the welfare of children has not been prioritised when they arrive in the UK.

"Children turn up at Dover often after journeys spanning many months - tired, traumatised and hungry," he said. "They’re in need of a friendly face and a safe place to stay. Instead they are detained and interrogated."

He added that should a child be referred to social services straight away, as suggested, they would be able to eat, sleep and then be screened according to proper procedures with a legal representative, responsible adult and an interpreter present.

"Such safeguards would not just protect the welfare of the child, but also encourage faith in the entire process, leading to more robust and reliable decisions on their asylum and immigration claim," he said.Children & Young People Now
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