The Refugee Council raised concerns about the safety of AfghanistanThe UK Border Agency is planning a £4m “reintegration centre” in Afghanistan so that failed Afghan child asylum seekers can be returned home.
An organisation is being sought to run the centre in the capital, Kabul, which would aim to help their resettlement.
The goal would be to assist 12 boys a month, aged 16 and 17, and 120 adults.
Refugee groups have questioned whether the UK should be considering sending unaccompanied children back to a country that is not safe.
Home Office figures from March this year show there are about 4,200 unaccompanied child asylum seekers in Britain supported by local authorities.
Of the 405 children claiming asylum in the first three months of 2010, 175 were Afghans.
Until now, the UK has had a policy of not returning children under 18 to Afghanistan unless they are accompanied by their families.
But plans for a £4m, three-year contract to build what the Border Agency calls a reintegration centre, put out to tender in March, appear to change that.
Finding families Failed asylum seekers returned to Kabul from the UK would be given help with education, training and starting a business, as well as somewhere to live.
Unaccompanied children would also receive assistance to help them find their families.
I think the last thing to do if you’ve got their welfare at heart is to send them back to very uncertain prospects
Caroline Slocock – Refugee and Migrant Justice
The Guardian newspaper reported that the centre would provide children with a supervised home until they were 18 and short-term accommodation for newly returned adults.
The move is part of a Europe-wide plan to increase the number of people returned to Afghanistan.
Caroline Slocock, chief executive of Refugee and Migrant Justice, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the money could be better used.
“They fled Afghanistan because they feared for their safety and they’ve often undertaken dangerous, arduous and very long journeys to get to this country. I think the last thing to do if you’ve got their welfare at heart is to send them back to very uncertain prospects,” she said.
“And I think if the government’s got four million to spend, they should spend it on providing better support for children here and working with them – perhaps in some cases – for them to return voluntarily to their country.”
‘Appropriate support’The Refugee Council also said there were “serious questions” about how the UK plan would work.
Chief executive Donna Covey told the Guardian: “There has been little said about how these children would be kept safe… if they have no family to whom they can be returned safely, should they be returned at all?
“The money would be better spent improving the way that children’s claims are assessed, so that we can be sure we never put them in danger.”
But Immigration Minister Damian Green said the government wanted “to find ways to help these young men in their home countries, and to return those who are in the UK safely to their home nations with appropriate support once they arrive”.
He added: “No-one should be encouraging children to make dangerous journeys across the world.”