17 January 2012

Lone children turned away by UK immigration authorities

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A recent report published by England's children's commissioner has revealed that children arriving alone at UK ports without a valid UK visa and who failed to claim asylum were returned to France under a secret 'gentleman's agreement'.

UK visa

The UK Border Agency has confirmed that the practice is no longer in use

Dr Maggie Atkinson had been working privately with the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to try and prevent the practice but has chosen to publish the report in order to bring the issue to the public's attention. The report, titled 'Landing in Kent', reveals that under a deal brokered in 1995 between France and the UK, lone children arriving without a UK visa were to be deported.

The report highlights the fact that under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, children arriving in the UK were entitled to protection and humanitarian assistance.

The UK Border Agency has confirmed that the process of removals ended last year after Dr Atkinson's intervention, who has vowed to find out exactly how many children were deported under this agreement.

"We know of at least seven children who experienced this in 2010 and it is likely there were others" she said, but that it could be impossible to find out an exact number.

A spokesperson for the Home Office could not confirm how many of the 1,700 lone children who arrived at UK ports in 2010 were deported.

Dr Atkinson originally began an investigation into the experiences of lone children arriving in the UK; it was during this investigation she received a copy of the 'gentleman's agreement' from UKBA staff.

"Further enquiries (with which UKBA co-operated fully) clarified that children who did not register a claim for asylum at the point of entry faced a real risk of being returned immediately to France under the terms of this agreement" she said.

This agreement, according to Dr Atkinson, prevents the UKBA from performing their duty to protect children despite the fact that "children arriving unaccompanied in the UK are some of the most vulnerable that my office deals with. Of the relatively small numbers that enter the country each year, most are seeking asylum."

"These unaccompanied children are usually young to mid-adolescent children aged around 14 to 18. They come from very difficult, war-torn countries or repressive regimes. If they have a bit of nous or they have been briefed they can claim asylum, then they are put through the official system" explained Dr Atkinson.

"If they don't claim asylum then under this 'gentleman's agreement', as it was presented, they were simply returned to France" she continued.

The agreement was in effect until August 2011 when Dr Atkinson brought the issue to the attention of Rob Whiteman, UKBA chief executive, who informed her that the practice had not only been in effect at Dover, but had also been used at Newhaven and Southampton.

However, Mr Whiteman confirmed that the practice would not be longer be used.

"I am pleased to inform [Dr Atkinson] that we think the current practice of removing unaccompanied minors to France under the gentleman's agreement should cease immediately" he said, adding that of the seven cases of deportation Dr Atkinson was aware of in 2010, two had already re-entered the UK and successfully claimed asylum.

Immigration Minister Damian Green has welcomed the report and confirmed that the report's main recommendation, that children should be allowed a few days to recover from their journey and secure legal advice before being interviewed, had already been implemented at Dover.


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