Following last week’s announcement that the detention of children of failed asylum seekers is to end, the UK Border Agency has outline plans for a more child friendly approach to ‘family returns’.
Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre will close to children with immediate effect, following a review of the detention of children and family returns by the government working with key partners, the agency said.
In May of this year, the government committed to end child detention for immigration purposes. Last week it has unveiled a new, compassionate approach to family removals, following a wide-reaching review and consultation.
The UK Border Agency will now follow a new 4-stage process focused on engagement with families during the decision-making process, giving parents the opportunity to engage in when and how they return, when they have been found to have no legal right to stay in the UK. The new measures will ensure a family’s return home is safe and dignified.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said:
‘Today marks an enormous culture shift within our immigration system.
‘The coalition government has always been clear that the detention of children for immigration purposes is unacceptable.
“We are placing the welfare of children and families at the centre of a fairer and more compassionate system.
‘In recent years we have seen hundreds of children, who have committed no crime, locked up in detention centres. Today we show how we will ensure it never happens again.’
Immigration Minister Damian Green said:
‘I am delighted to announce the immediate closure of Yarl’s Wood to children, as pledged by the new government earlier this year. We also said we would end the detention of children for immigration purposes, and that’s what we’ve done.
‘There is a fine balance between taking a compassionate approach to family removals, and ensuring individuals with no legal right to be in the UK cannot prolong their stay and break the rules.
‘I believe our new measures are both humane and fair. We are providing assistance packages, and family conferences to ensure families understand their options, and will be trying to ensure that they can remain in the community prior to their departure home. We are also creating a new independent family returns panel to ensure that the welfare of children is considered and properly factored into return plans where enforcement action is necessary.’
Specially trained family case workers will in future work with families throughout the asylum decision making process. Once a family’s appeals have been exhausted they will be offered support through a new process. It will include:
- family conferences to discuss their return home, welfare and medical concerns and offer families tailored assisted voluntary return packages;
- assisted voluntary return packages to help them resettle upon their return;
- required returns for families who fail to take up the assistance package, allowing them to remain in the community, but giving two weeks notice to board their flight home and allowing families to self check-in without the need for enforcement action; and finally
- an ensured return, as a last resort. If they fail to depart the UK, we will consider a range of options to ensure the return of families which will be tailored to each family’s circumstances. Return plans will be agreed by a new independent panel. New options being developed include a form of short notice removal, the use of open accommodation, and – as a last resort where families resolutely fail to comply – family friendly, pre-departure accommodation, where we will allow children to have the opportunity to leave the premises subject to a risk and safeguarding assessment and suitable supervision arrangements.
Children’s Minister Sarah Teather said:
‘This is a reassuring day for children and families in difficult and stressful circumstances in the immigration system. From today, Yarl’s Wood will shut its doors to families with children going through the immigration process. By doing this the government has delivered on its commitment to ensure no families with children are in Yarl’s Wood over Christmas.
‘I have always passionately believed that the UK needs an immigration system which deals properly with people who have no right to remain in the country but is also humane, treats vulnerable families with respect and safeguards children’s welfare. Today’s announcement proposes radical improvements, which will require a significant culture change, but aim to deliver a fairer, more socially just, and balanced system.’
Maggie Atkinson, Children’s Commissioner for England said in response to the announcement:
‘This welcome news is the culmination of five years’ work under two Children’s Commissioners in which we have consistently reported the conditions in which children subject to immigration controls have been detained and the impact this has had on their welfare. Documentary evidence, visits and face to face interviews with children showed us the damaging impact it has on children’s mental and physical health.
‘I was therefore one of the first to welcome the government’s commitment to end detention. The other Children’s Commissioners in the UK and I constructively contributed to this consultation on alternatives.
‘I am enthused this review now lays out a clear path to end the detention of children for immigration purposes. The closure of the family unit at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre is good news for children and young people.
‘Whilst this is a major step we will continue monitoring progress and working with the government to ensure children are treated properly while in the asylum system.’
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