Asylum-seeking children face deportation

The Home Office has confirmed it is looking at plans to forcibly remove hundreds of unaccompanied children who are seeking asylum in the UK.

A spokesman insisted the children’s safety would “always be a primary consideration”, but the move has prompted serious concern among child protection groups.

Under current rules, children arriving in the UK on their own are granted discretionary leave to remain until they reach the age of 18, after which they must apply for asylum through the usual channels.

But Home Office documents leaked to the Guardian suggest proposals are being drawn up to overturn this and begin the forced removal of minors, starting with the 500 Vietnamese children currently living in the UK.

A spokesman for the department confirmed that the proposals were being considered, but said they were still at the planning stage and there were no immediate plans for removals from Vietnam or anywhere else.

“The best interest of the child would always be a primary consideration in any decision to return the child,” he said, adding that each case would be considered on an individual basis to ensure the child was properly looked after on their return.

However, Christine Beddoe, the director of Ecpat UK, a coalition of children’s charities, warned that the infrastructure in Vietnam was insufficient to allow any guarantee that the children would be looked after on their return.

She noted that many Vietnamese children who found themselves in the UK had been brought there by people traffickers to work in the sex industry or for other exploitation, and ministers had a duty to protect them.

“These children are not adults, they have not made adult choices to seek asylum. They have been trafficked here for exploitation, and as a result of their situation have been found in the UK and applied for asylum,” Ms Beddoe told politics.co.uk.

“Because of their vulnerable situation in the UK, where they left and where they might go back to, the government has a responsibility to ensure their safety…with this programme, the Home Office is going completely against the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

The leaked memo suggests Home Office officials are also considering deporting children to Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, but Ms Beddoe said the child protection facilities in those war-torn countries were even worse than in Vietnam.

The plans are being drawn up as ministers attempt to tackle a crisis in the immigration system, which has seen illegal workers employed at the Home Office, foreign prisoners released when they should have been deported and claims of corruption among staff.

Last month, home secretary John Reid announced a complete overhaul of the immigration department, promising to tackle the backlog of failed asylum seekers in the UK and doubling the resources to track down illegal immigrants.