Quaker response to UK Borders Agency review of detention of children

Review into ending the detention of children for immigration purposes

1. We welcome the Government`s commitment to ending the detention of children for immigration purposes and this opportunity of making a submission to the UK Border Agency’s review. We hope that this may be a first step to reducing the reliance on immigration detention for adults.

2. We welcome also the recognition that this review will take place within a framework of international EU and human rights obligations and the duty of the UK Borders Agency to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in carrying out its functions under section 55 Borders Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009.

3. Improving the quality of initial decision–making would be the single most effective contribution towards reducing the pressure on the UKBA to detain children. The statutory duty to promote the welfare of children requires that children should not be separated from their parents except where there are significant child protection concerns brought a competent court. Where there are ambiguities in age assessment a precautionary principle should be applied.

4. We welcome the Solihull Pilot Scheme as a way of ensuring that asylum seekers have access to high quality and early legal advice and hope that an enhanced scheme combining this with high quality ‘contact management’ can become a benchmark for good practice. Only a system where asylum seekers are listened to with a receptive mind and have access to independent legal advice and representation will command the faith of those affected. Appropriate advice and consultation will maximise the chances of voluntary return in those circumstances where asylum seekers do not meet the rigorous requirements of the Refugee Convention and complementary protection.

5. Families with children are among the groups least likely to abscond. Where it is considered that there is a serious likelihood of absconding, Bail provides the most appropriate and least restrictive alternative to detention. In these circumstances we suggest that a model that includes dedicated case workers and welfare officers is most likely to guarantee the well being of children who are always vulnerable and sometimes destitute. We hope that the UKBA will consider the lessons of the Toronto Bail programme. We understand that in the period 2002 to 2003 the project had a record of over 90% compliance with Bail conditions. In those rare cases where there is a particular risk of absconding at the end of process we would urge the provision of high quality hostel like accommodation. We understand that in the case of Mathew House (www.matthewhouse.ca) in Canada 99% of asylum seekers have complied with conditions.

6. In those circumstances where families including young children need to be returned at the end of process we would urge the continued monitoring of those affected to ensure the education and well being of vulnerable children. We note the decision of Mr Justice Collins in the cases of A v SSHD (CO/1995/2009) and T v SSHD (CO/1858/2010), a case of unaccompanied minors, in February of this year, where the removal of children without notice and without enquiring into reception conditions was held to be unlawful. In end of process cases, we recognise the value of advice, support and practical assistance in maximising the rate of voluntary returns. In the Canadian Failed Refugee Project run by the Greater Toronto Enforcement Agency over 60% of the project’s clients returned to their country of origin after a 30 day period and over 80% after a further visit. We recognise the value of appropriate support both for re-housing and access to schools on return to their country of origin. Even in manifestly unfounded cases the Government of the UK has a duty of care towards those children affected. Where there is a reasonable prospect of returning families voluntarily we would suggest that time-limited temporary leave to remain may be an option.

7. We do not consider that electronic tagging is an appropriate alternative to detention. In coming to this conclusion we are aware both of the damaging psychological effects that can be caused by tags among children and the moral hazard of introducing a new alternative to detention. We would suggest that where there is a particularly high risk of absconding of the families concerned that more onerous reporting conditions are a preferable alternative.

Michael Bartlet, Parliamentary Liaison Secretary, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain.