Concerns raised include the ‘hostile environment’, delays in the asylum system, and the impact of Brexit
The Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE), which is part of the charity Just for Kids Law, on Tuesday released its comprehensive report on the state of children’s rights in England in 2018.
The section of the report dealing with immigration, asylum and trafficking can be downloaded as a separate 12-page PDF file here.
Positive developments identified by CRAE in 2018 include the re-instatement of immigration legal aid for unaccompanied and separated children in care, and improvements in protections for child victims of trafficking and modern slavery.
Among the negatives, CRAE identifies the continuing impacts of the ‘hostile environment’.
The report states: “The ‘hostile environment’ has had a negative impact on children’s access to education, support and services, exacerbating the inaccessibility of the current immigration system, especially given the lack of legal aid for all children in the system. There are also concerns that the punitive immigration environment is making undocumented children and/or those with irregular status more vulnerable to exploitation.”
In addition, CRAE says the policy of data-sharing between government departments, the NHS and the Home Office, as an immigration control measure is in contravention of the rights of all children – regardless of immigration status – to education, healthcare and protection on the basis of non-discrimination.
On child asylum seekers, the report raises concerns over delays, stating: “Systemic delays in the asylum system are having a devastating impact on asylum-seeking children, with many waiting for 18 months or even two years for a decision. This leads to high levels of stress and anxiety, affecting children’s mental health, education, relationships with peers and their ability to plan for their future. The suicide of three asylum-seeking teenagers raises serious questions about the asylum system’s ability to safeguard vulnerable children and young people, especially when they are already dealing with the trauma of fleeing to the UK and with protracted uncertainty about their status and their lives.”
CRAE says there are barriers to mental health support for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, with ‘hostile environment’ policies making it more difficult for them to access NHS services and education, while cuts to legal aid have created more barriers, leading to further mental health distress.
While the number of children entering immigration detention has dropped sharply since 2009, CRAE is concerned that in the twelve months to September 2018, 60 children were held in immigration detention, despite the government’s promise to end this practice.
Brexit also features as a concern, with CRAE saying there is a lack of clarity over whether Brexit arrangements will safeguard the rights of these children.
The report adds: “There are also concerns that many families with children may not know that they have to apply for ‘settled status’ and will not have access to the necessary information to do so. Without legal advice and community-based support those with complex cases will face particular problems. The fact that many local authorities do not know how many children in their care are EU nationals raises serious questions about their ability to identify and support these children with their applications.”
Additionally, CRAE is concerned over the poor, and costly, routes to regularisation for undocumented children.
The report says: “There are an estimated 144,000 undocumented migrant children living in England and Wales. Like the Windrush generation, many who came to the UK as children or were born here are now facing a precarious situation and exorbitant costs to regularise their status. Some have been threatened with forced removal to countries that they have little connection with. The application fees for settlement coupled with the doubling of the NHS surcharge announced by the government in October 2018 represent prohibitive costs for many. Under the current system, children and young people who want to regularise their status and settle in the UK have to make five applications, wait ten years and pay over £10,000. This discriminates against those with limited means, makes regularisation inaccessible, protracted and costly for many, and does not represent children’s best interests, pushing them into undocumented status.”