Campaigners slam UKBA plan to clamp down on child asylum seekers

Children’s rights campaigners have branded UK Border Agency (UKBA) proposals to remove child asylum seekers from the UK before they are 17 years old as “shocking”.

As detailed in The Independent,  budget cuts being considered by UKBA ahead of this month’s comprehensive spending review, include lowering the age by which unaccompanied child asylum-seekers can be returned home from its current level of 17-and-a-half.

Carla Garnelas, Children Rights Alliance for England’s acting head of policy and public affairs, said: “We are talking about extremely vulnerable children here, who have experienced serious trauma and require high levels of support and care.

“The proposal to deport them in order to save money is disgraceful and seriously calls into question our obligations to the rights of children subject to immigration control. It suggests that their rights are expendable when it comes to decisions about spending cuts.”

A spokesperson for the Children’s Legal Centre said: “The UK Border Agency’s cost-cutting proposals are shocking and fly in the face of assurances that it is concerned about the welfare of children.”

If implemented, the proposal could leave the UKBA open to legal challenges, according to children’s rights campaigners.

The Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 places a duty on the UKBA to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

Garnelas said: “How can deporting children possibly be in line with our human rights commitments?”

Unicef is also concerned about the proposals. Its policy and research officer Dragan Nastic said: “Child refugees need to be treated first and foremost as children; their rights must be given the same priority as any other child in the UK.

“A decision to return a child to their country of origin must only be taken after a rigorous assessment proves the return is in the individual child’s best interests, not as a result of Home Office money-saving proposals.”

Lin Homer, UKBA chief executive, said that no decision had been taken on the cuts the service is facing. She added: “Our priority is always to keep the border secure and to control migration.”