The Secretary of State for the Home Department (“Home Secretary”) introduced the Illegal Migration Bill on 7 March 2023. The Bill moved to the House of Lords, and its Second Reading took place on Wednesday, 10 May 2023. The Bill will move to the Committee stage within the House of Lords on 24 May 2023.
The British Medical Association, British Association of Social Workers, Medical Justice, Refugee Council, and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health are deeply concerned by the proposed changes and their impact on children’s health, well-being and safety.
The provisions within the Bill will change the asylum system and child protection framework in an unprecedented way. Claims made by unaccompanied children will not be accepted into the UK system, children will be detained, and some could be removed from the UK before they turn 18 years old. Additionally, the Bill will afford the Home Secretary significant new powers in relation to housing and care of these children in a way, we believe, that will significantly undermine the Children Act 1989 and associated statutory guidance.
Proposed changes will lead to creating a two-tier system, where some children are treated differently only because of their nationality and mode of arrival to the UK. The background to the changes in the Illegal Migration Bill needs to be considered in the broader context of protecting children in the asylum system. As observed in the shadow NGO report on the UK implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, there has been a significant regression in rights and protections afforded to this group of children.
We are yet to understand the full impact of the system that treats a group of children differently, e.g. by detaining them for immigration purposes, the adverse effects of the threat of removal on a child’s mental health (and likely physical health) and the adverse effects of the Home Office becoming responsible for children’s accommodation and care rather than current welfare services, who have expertise and resources to do it.
The Government must outline how the provisions they are introducing in the Bill will operate in practice and produce an impact assessment these changes will have on children.