U-Turn On Care Threat To Failed Asylum Seekers’ Children

The Home Office has abandoned its threat to take into care the children of failed asylum seekers who refuse to leave the country. The climbdown follows a pilot scheme involving 116 families facing deportation, which showed that the policy of threatening to withdraw all welfare support had proved a flop.

“The evidence from the pilot … indicates that there was no significant increase in the number of voluntary returns or removals of unsuccessful asylum-seeking families,” says the Home Office study, published yesterday.

A Home Office review of family removals also recommends that very young children should not be separated from their mothers, and families with school-age children about to take exams should not be detained. It also suggests that immigration enforcement officers involved in family work should be issued with clothing in softer colours than their current navy so they are less intimidating to children.

The immigration minister, Liam Byrne, said the policy of threatening to take children into care introduced in the 2004 asylum legislation was intended to encourage cooperation with removals:

“While we think it is important to retain a provision to withdraw support from families who will not cooperate with removal, we do not think it is appropriate for it to be used on a blanket basis.”

Mr Byrne also said he was making concessions over the much criticised section 4 support for failed asylum seekers who are unable to leave Britain because of circumstances beyond their control. He said that extra support would be given later this year to pregnant women and mothers with children in this category, including access to basic clothing and travel as well as food and toiletries with vouchers.

At the same time the Home Office’s Border and Immigration Agency said a new legal duty would be placed on immigration staff to keep children safe from harm, backed by a code of practice, and would develop alternatives to detaining children in immigration removal centres.

The chief executive of the Refugee Council, Donna Covey, said: “The government has effectively admitted defeat on section 9. The policy wasn’t working and it was causing a lot of fear and misery. We would like to have seen it scrapped altogether, but having campaigned and lobbied for so long … we are pleased that the minister has looked at the evidence and the arguments and taken action.”