Border Agency appeals ban on dawn raids of unaccompanied children

Border Agency appeals ban on dawn raids

The government is challenging a court-imposed ban on controversial “dawn raid” removals of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children that are carried out without notice, as the number of deportations has plummeted, CYP Now has learned.

The divisive practice has been used in the past to deport children to European Union countries under the so-called Dublin Regulation, whereby the UK can remove asylum seekers to their first entry point into Europe, provided it is an EU member.

Appealing the ban

Since 2004, around 450 children have been removed under the powers. But figures obtained by CYP Now under the Freedom of Information Act show numbers have dropped sharply in the past couple of years.

Just five children were deported to their first point of entry in the EU in 2010 compared with 35 in 2009 and 50 in 2008.

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) has attributed the drop to a High Court ruling preventing the removal of foreign nationals given notice of less than 72 hours of removal, which stemmed from the decision last July on a case brought by Medical Justice. But it is fighting the ruling.

At a preliminary hearing in May last year, the UKBA was ordered to suspend its use of the policy.

However, the Refugee Council and the Children’s Legal Centre say the drop in deportations could have been triggered as early as February last year when the judge in another High Court case labelled the same-day removal of a 17-year-old girl to Italy as “unlawful” and told the Home Office “the sooner the same-day removal is reconsidered and hopefully abolished, the better”.

A UKBA spokesman said: “We are appealing the decision to the Court of Appeal and it is listed for hearing in November. Our policy will be further reviewed following the decision from the courts.”

Campaigners say the drop in deportations is welcome and want the use of dawn raids ended permanently.

In February this year, the children’s commissioner for England Maggie Atkinson called on the government to review its policy of deporting asylum-seeking children to the first European country they entered.

The coalition government’s situation, however, is complicated by its pledge to end the detention of immigrant children, which has led to greater reliance on the voluntary return process.

In the absence of the ability to detain, giving children notice of removal can result in them fleeing local authority care.

But campaigners argue that proper adherence to Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 – under which the UKBA is duty-bound to consider children’s safety and welfare – would mean that deportation only happens in cases where it is clearly in the best interests of the child, such as when their parents are claiming asylum in a third country.

They also point to the fact that hundreds of children endure months of uncertainty by having their cases accepted by the UKBA’s third country unit (TCU), which processes deportations.

The overwhelming majority of these do not end in deportation for reasons that can include the child going missing from care, turning 18 or the case being “timed out”.

Human rights concerns

Judith Dennis, policy adviser at the Refugee Council, said the number of deportations is likely to rise again if the government maintains its current stance.

“The TCU fought very hard against the [legal] challenge,” she said. “They were adamant that they [children involved in the cases] should have been removed.”

Concerns have also been expressed over the human rights records of some of the countries children have been deported to.

A list of destination countries supplied by the UKBA includes Greece and Malta, nations that have been criticised for their human rights records in relation to immigrants.

Syd Bolton, solicitor at the Children’s Legal Centre, said: “Any country that doesn’t have in place the kinds of safeguarding provisions that you would expect to have in the UK places children at a distinct disadvantage.”

By Neil Puffett Tuesday, 17 May 2011