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Children's Commissioner requests urgent meeting over Illegal Migration Bill

Dame Rachel De Souza said she was ‘concerned that the Bill has been introduced without any pre-legislative scrutiny and without consulting my office’.

15/03/23

Children's Commissioner requests urgent meeting over Illegal Migration Bill

The Children’s Commissioner for England has requested an urgent meeting to discuss Home Office plans for unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the Illegal Migration Bill.

The government introduced the controversial bill to Parliament last week, stating its aim to stop people from crossing the Channel in small boats by preventing those arriving from later claiming asylum.

Under the plans, a scheme would be created whereby anyone arriving “illegally” in the UK will be removed to their home country or a safe third country, with the so-called legality of their route to the UK to be determined by the government.

The bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons positive votes yesterday with the majority of Conservative MPs voting for the plans.

However, in a letter to the Home Secretary (written before the Bill’s second reading), Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel De Souza raised concerns about how the Bill was brought forward and the lack of consultation.

“I am concerned that the Bill has been introduced without any pre-legislative scrutiny and without consulting my office,” Dame De Souza wrote.

“As Children’s Commissioner for England, I have a statutory duty to promote and protect the rights of all children in the UK. I have a particular duty towards those with a social worker or living away from home, which includes unaccompanied children seeking asylum.

“I am deeply concerned about the impact of the Bill on the lives of the vulnerable children arriving in the UK to seek safety and refuge. As drafted the Bill is opaque on what it means for children and their rights.”

The Children’s Commissioner queried circumstances under which the power to remove unaccompanied asylum-seeking children would be used, the regulations that would govern its use, as well as how children who have been trafficked will be identified and what their rights to protection would be.
The letter also raised questions over the accommodation for children while awaiting transfer to local authority care or removal from the country, and also whether the Home Office had conducted a Child’s Rights Impact Assessment.

In February this year, reports emerged that 200 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children went missing from Home Office-run accommodation, of which 12 have still not been found. The Children’s Commissioner’s scathing letter pressed the Home Secretary on answers for this and for more detail on her evidence for suggesting that children are instead opting to leave the hotels of their own volition.

“While I understand that locating missing children is extremely challenging given that these children have limited footprint in the UK, I believe that serious safeguarding incident notifications to the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel should be made in instances where children are reported missing and not found.

“In your letter you outline that you haven’t seen any evidence of children being taken from the hotels against their will. Yet I am aware that there have been concerning investigations which suggest that children in the hotels are at an increased risks of being abducted and exploited by criminal gangs.

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