The Guardian reports that a pilot scheme gives families with children facing removal a two-week ultimatum to leave the country voluntarily.
Immigration officials charged with carrying out the government’s pledge to end the detention of children in immigration centres have launched a scheme designed to deport them and their families from the country within weeks.
The move dashes expectations of a more liberal alternative to child detention. Families with children facing removal are to be given a two-week ultimatum to leave the country voluntarily, according to a document seen by the Guardian.
If they fail to go they will be told they will be deported “at some point” within the next two weeks, sometimes without being given a specific date or time to get ready.
The pilot scheme, launched by the UK Border Agency, has been running in north-west England since early July as part of the review of alternatives to child detention. Failed asylum seekers and illegal immigrants whose appeal rights have been exhausted are told they are taking part in the pilot when they report to the UKBA’s Reliance House in Liverpool.
The government’s pledge to end the detention of children for immigration purposes was a flagship promise made within days of the coalition coming to power. Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, told the Commons last week that it was a “moral outrage” that more than 1,000 children had been detained during the last year of the Labour government. He announced the closure of the Yarl’s Wood detention centre’s family unit and pledged to “restore a sense of decency and liberty to the way we conduct ourselves”.
But a leaked UKBA briefing paper drawn up by Nicola Rea, the head of service, asylum, refugee and migration services, dated 27 June, reveals that two pilot schemes – one in London as well as the one in the north-west – were due to run as part of the review of child detention, which was completed two weeks ago.
[A Home Office representative contacted the Guardian on 6 August at 16.29 to say: “This document was not written by UKBA. Nicola Rea works for Manchester City Council.”]
Clegg told MPs that an announcement would be made shortly of the alternatives to be used. Refugee welfare groups had been hoping that measures including bail, electronic tagging and reporting requirements would be adopted. The Refugee Council said last night it would be extremely concerned if families were given only two weeks to leave the country when they may have been in Britain for many months or even years.
“Families must be fully informed of their options throughout the asylum process,” said Donna Covey of the Refugee Council. “At the end of the process, it is imperative that families have enough time to access legal advice to ensure that they will be safe on return, and they can settle their affairs, and, importantly, prepare their children to leave the country. Many of these families will have a well-founded fear about returning to a country where there is conflict or human rights abuses, and we must ensure that they can return safely and in dignity. The welfare of children involved in any return must be paramount.”
But the UKBA document, leaked to Socialist Worker, suggests that boosting the removal rate, rather than humanitarian considerations, is the priority for ministers.
The briefing paper also shows that the border agency is worried that ending the use of detention could give families facing deportation more chance to launch community protest campaigns backed by the media and MPs. It says more police may need to be involved in deportations because “significant public order problems” could follow removals.
“The alternative is not to inform the family of the exact time and date of removal, so that they are not prepared. However, this has its own difficulties, which would need analysing and addressing.”
The document says it is undecided whether a specific time and date should be given, or a longer period of a couple of days.
The paper was written before the recent high court ruling that it is unlawful for UKBA to carry out “no-notice” removals. However, it says that any last-minute legal challenges will have to be expedited.
The briefing paper examines possible public health and child protection problems if the new policy leads to more families absconding. It warns that there could be problems if those who disappear have long-term illnesses or significant health issues that then go untreated. It also raises the prospect of more children having to be taken into care if their parents abscond.
Rea also raises concerns that children will continue to attend school once a family has been warned of removal, which could cause problems with other children and teachers campaigning to stop the deportation.
The disclosure follows the severely critical report last week by John Vine, the independent chief inspector of UKBA, disclosing that unnecessary “dawn raids” have become the norm in deportations.
• This article was amended on 6 August 2010, to include a post-publication comment from the Home Office. Source: Guardian.
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