What it gives with one hand, it takes away with a dump-truck.
The government’s decision to take an unspecified number of lone refugee children stranded in Europe is a welcome u-turn, but it followed a public outcry, intense lobbying and rebellions in the Lords and by a number of Tory MPs.
Immigration law in the UK tends to be made piecemeal, in a chaotic and unprincipled fashion. Perhaps anticipating the inevitable push-back from liberal forces, the government generally pitches for as much hostility and as little leniency as possible.
Legislators end up horse-trading with the lives of vulnerable people, including thousands of lone refugee children from Syria, Afghanistan and other war-torn nations. The spectacle is by turns depressing, predictable.
I’ve written previously about the suffering of lone child refugees undertaking these hazardous journeys. Watch Conservative MP Stephen Phillips explain why he chose to rebel against the government’s position below.
The government argued, without any evidence that I have seen, that if it helped out 3,000 children that would simply push more children to make the dangerous journey from conflict-zones into mainland Europe and increase people smuggling and trafficking along the way.
The overwhelming public response was: ‘Think again, Dave.’
If anything, refugee children and their families are currently extremely vulnerable to abuse. Europol estimates that so far, 10,000 lone refugee children have disappeared in Europe, including 5,000 in Italy and 1,000 in Sweeden. Many are believed to be subject to sexual exploitation, even reportedly in the Jungle camp in Calais. There is widespread support for the UK playing its part, as it eventually did to its credit during the kinder-transport era, then as now, through gritted teeth.
Section on UK’s grudging admittance of kinder transport child refugees in Robert Winder’s ‘Bloody Foreigners’ (2004) pic.twitter.com/r1pNN9mvdK
— Miranda Grell (@MirandaGrell) January 31, 2016
Other parts of the Immigration Bill don’t exactly lay down the welcome mat for child refugees and asylum seekers. For more detailed analysis, please see the excellent posts by the Refugee Council and the Right to Remain campaign.
Families whose claims for asylum are rejected will have their already modest levels of asylum support withdrawn after 90 days, after which they will be expected to leave the UK or be left homeless and destitute. Very few of those who stay will be eligible for vouchers and accommodation from the Home Office. We are still waiting for the details of how the remaining support for failed asylum seekers will work. This will be hashed out in secondary legislation and won’t be scrutinised by parliamentary debate.
As soon as these children turn 18, the new Immigration Bill cuts off their entitlement to support from social services. That means that young children who have spent perhaps the majority of their lives in local authority care will not be supported . This is a harsh, artificial and illogical approach. Judges rightly recognise that there is “no bright line” which once crossed a person becomes an adult. This risks unravelling any progress and personal development the young person makes while they are under 18, pushing them off a cliff-edge for no real purpose.
As some have pointed out on twitter, this is made more puzzling after David Cameron’s announcement yesterday promising greater support for care-leavers. It also contradicts the trend in other areas of government policy, such as special educational needs, where support can now run until young persons reach 25, if need be.
Once they are out on their own and refused modest support from the Home Office, asylum seekers and refugees may struggle to access private accommodation thanks to the Right to Rent checks being rolled out across the UK following dismal and poorly understood trials in Milton Keynes.
Greater numbers of immigration cases are due to fall under the government’s ‘Deport now, appeal later’ scheme, which can often separates parents from children ahead of an appeal hearing and make it more difficult for claimants to access the tribunal (which historically lacks video-conferencing facilities).