Refugee Children’s Consortium – A debate on alternatives to child detention

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Groups involved in support for migrants and asylum seekers cannot in conscience support the government’s aim of increased family removals, when return is too often the outcome of a system where the odds are so heavily weighted against claimants that it is fatally flawed and cannot do justice.

The Refugee Children’s Consortium (RCC), a coalition of thirty immigration and children’s organisations, appreciates this difficulty and refuses to engage in any removals project. As it points out in its briefing for the parliamentary debate:

* ‘Ending the detention of children is not dependent on establishing “alternatives to detention” projects, or new processes for families.

* Discussion on policies and practice on returns are not needed to end the detention of children.

* Discussions that focus on finding solutions to the problems at the end of the process need to consider a family’s entire experience of the asylum and immigration processes.’

Green and his government give a nod to the need for ‘early legal advice’ – but a government that can watch with equanimity the demise of the biggest provider of free legal representation, Refugee & Migrant Justice (RMJ), in an already decimated legal market, is not interested in ensuring the kind of advice and assistance that wins cases, only the kind of advice which tells people to go home. But even better legal help does not avail against the barriers to justice erected over the past decades, from fast-track decision-making to legal presumptions that a particular strife-torn country is safe or that an asylum seeker is not telling the truth. A decision-making process designed to deal with abuse is not good at recognising those with good claims.

Couple all that to a returns programme which frequently acts against the advice of international refugee agencies like the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and it is not hard to understand why so few are willing to return. No one voluntarily returns to a situation which puts their family at risk, whether the risk is of genocide, political or religious persecution, civil or tribal war, or death from malnutrition or preventable disease. Who would voluntarily return to Iraq, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo or Somalia – countries which between them account for the majority of refused asylum seekers in the UK?

The failure to take in the whole asylum determination procedure, or to seek to ensure that the process resulting in removal is fair and the destination countries are safe and viable, makes the detention review a dangerous trap for those who co-operate with UKBA on its own terms.

In the Westminster Hall debate, it was left to the Lib Dem MP for Cambridge, Dr Julian Huppert, to point out, ‘The main alternative that I can think of to detaining 1,000 children a year is not to detain them.’

Members of the Refugee Children’s Consortium are: Action for Children, The Asphaleia Project, AVID (Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees), Bail for Immigration Detainees, Barnardo’s, BASW (British Association of Social Workers), British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), Catch 22, Children’s Legal Centre, Child Poverty Action Group, Children’s Rights Alliance for England, The Children’s Society, DOST, Family Rights Group, The Fostering Network, FSU (Family Service Units), The Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA), Medical Justice, The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, NCB, NSPCC, The Prince’s Trust, RAMFEL, Refugee Council, Refugee and Migrant Justice, Scottish Refugee Council, Student Action for Refugees (STAR), Voice and Welsh Refugee Council.
The British Red Cross, Office of the Children’s Commissioner (England), UNICEF UK and UNHCR all have observer status.