Call to end detention of asylum seekers’ children

The detention of asylum seekers’ children is a stain on the UK’s moral authority and should be ended, a report has said.

More than 2,000 children are detained in the UK every year while the asylum claims of their parents are considered.

The Independent Asylum Commission (IAC), which is also calling for an end to children of asylum seekers being X-rayed to determine their age, wants guardianship schemes to be set up instead.

A new report out on Thursday called for a root and branch review of Britain’s detention policies.

The IAC wants asylum seekers to only be detained when they pose a threat to national security or when there is no alternative to return them to their country of origin.

A poll released to coincide with the commission’s final report – Deserving Dignity – said 70 per cent of Britons believe individuals should not be detained if they have not committed a crime or present a risk to society.

According to today’s report, survivors of torture and abuse are not being treated with dignity, while it also raises the question of why the basic safeguards that exist in the criminal system are not being applied to detention.

It also suggests allowing people seeking sanctuary to work while their claim is under consideration.

Sir John Waite, formerly a high court judge and a past chair of Unicef, commented: “The way we treat the most vulnerable in our midst is a true gauge of our values as a nation and a people.

“The public rightly expects fair and humane treatment of asylum seekers, befitting of a civilised society. Our review has found that there is a considerable distance to travel until the reality of how we treat women, children and torture survivors who seek sanctuary in the UK matches that aspiration.”

The commission’s report has received the backing of the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, who has added his voice to calls to end the detention of asylum seekers’ children.

“Many Anglican chaplains serve the spiritual and emotional needs of asylum seekers within detention centres. They have seen the scars, both figurative and literal, left by torture and abuse on people, who are currently deprived of liberty, even though they have broken no laws and pose no threat to our society,” Dr Williams explained.

“Deserving Dignity is an apt title for this report. The dignity that each of us expect and deserve as human beings and which we owe to our neighbours, cannot be wholly at the mercy of the pressures of effective border control.”

Both the Scottish and Welsh Refugee Councils are supporting the IAC’s findings, with the Immigration Advisory Service describing the report as a “wake-up call” for the government.

The Children’s Society said children should only be detained under any circumstances as a last resort, while Barnardo’s said current government policy was causing families and children seeking sanctuary to be “driven into destitution”.

The charity’s chief executive Martin Narey said: “The government must change its policy to allow asylum seekers whose case has not been resolved within six months the ability to use their skills and pay their way. They seek only the right to give their children a better life and recover some dignity for themselves.

“The current situation is a stain on our moral authority as a nation.”