New borders bill will create an “urgent human rights and child protection crisis”
The Government’s new Nationality and Borders Bill will significantly impact children’s rights to protection and leave them at risk of dangerous journeys, trafficking and criminalisation, campaigners warn.
Campaigners have warned that the Nationality and Borders Bill, put to Parliament earlier this week, is an urgent human rights and child protection crisis.
The bill builds on the Government’s New Plan for Immigration, first published in March this year, and contains a range of measures which will be highly detrimental to all trafficked children, as well as migrant children who are at high risk of exploitation, trafficking charities have warned.
The Government describes the plans as “fair but firm”, saying they set out the most radical changes to the “broken asylum system” in decades. It claims the new bill will prioritise those in most need of protection while “stopping the abuse of the system”.
However, anti-trafficking charity ECPAT UK says the legislation does not just contain measures on immigration, which fail to protect those in need of safety, but also makes extensive changes to the identification, protection, and support of victims of trafficking and modern slavery.
The charity labelled the new legislation “an attack on all those seeking refuge as well as victims of abuse, whether from persecution, torture, exploitation, or trafficking – and fundamental, hard won human rights.”
Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK, said the bill is an urgent human rights and child protection crisis.
“Many of the provisions are unnecessary and cruel and an indictment of the Government’s approach. What’s more, this cruelty seems to serve no purpose other than to further a hostile and anti-immigration political agenda, as measures in the bill will not stop crime and exploitation but will likely increase it.
Of particular concern, is that the bill sets out that victims who have been ‘re-trafficked’ will no longer be entitled to support and protection. Critics say this could “severely impact” child trafficking survivors who are subsequently re-trafficked as they transition to adulthood and require access to support and protection through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). They say the change demonstrates a “fundamental misunderstanding” of the nature of child trafficking and survivors’ ongoing vulnerability, and will diminish existing efforts to tackle trafficking.
The National Referral Mechanism is the UK’s system for officially identifying and recognising victims of trafficking and modern slavery. Frontline workers – including local authority social workers and the police – have a duty as ‘first responders’ to refer potential victims of modern slavery into the mechanism.
The bill also establishes a procedure for ‘slavery or trafficking information notices’ to be issued to potential victims subject to immigration control. The notices will be issued to seek further information needed to make trafficking determinations in the NRM. Victims must provide this information within a specified timeframe.
Campaigners say this measure discriminates between victims subject to immigration control and other victims by adding an additional barrier to identification for those subject to immigration control, warning that identifying victims is not an immigration matter but a safeguarding matter. They say this will lead to a two-tier system of support for victims with irregular immigration status and those who are not.
The Refugee Council says the new approach “flies in the face” of the Refugee Convention, which states that the status of an asylum claim should not be dependent on the mode of entry into a country.
“It will create a group of vulnerable, precarious people, unable to plan for their futures in the UK or start to integrate,” the charity said in a statement.
The measures have also been criticised as having the potential to cause increases in the already long delays in the NRM, with delays to NRM decision making have been shown to have a significant impact on children’s ability to access support.
“In practical terms, the legislation will not improve protection and support for child survivors of trafficking,” Durr says, adding: “Waiting years for a decision is a significant issue affecting the trafficked young people we work with, who are left them in limbo, fearful of removal from the UK and unable to recover or move on with their lives.”
The new bill will also disqualify many children from protection – in contravention of international law – by precluding children who have served custodial sentences of over a year, as well as those prosecuted for certain offences, from being identified as victims. ECPAT UK says this is “hugely worrying” as child victims are commonly criminalised for offences committed due to their exploitation and the bill would leave them without the possibility to access support or challenge their offences on appeal.
Children who are suspected of ‘terrorism links’ will also be prevented from being identified as victims, even if they have been groomed and exploited by armed groups.
The bill will also give the Government power to set out the details regarding the age assessment proposals at a later date by regulations. The Home Office has committed to add this clause before the bill reaches the Committee stage, however professionals in the sector have warned that age disputes are already a significant factor preventing children from receiving the care and support they are entitled to and putting them at risk of harm when wrongly treated as adults.
Commenting on the bill, Mark Russell, Chief Executive at the Children’s Society said the Bill’s reforms will endanger some of the most vulnerable children in society.
“The Government seeks to penalise people who submit late evidence or appeal decisions, yet we know how challenging it is for children and young people, who have faced untold trauma and come to the UK seeking safety, to present comprehensive evidence for their cases immediately.
“[The changes] will make life harder for children and young people, putting them at increased risk of mental health crisis, destitution and exploitation."
Read more about the Nationality and Borders Bill: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/the-nationality-and-borders-bill
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