The Home Office has been urged to detain more families and could face fewer restrictions in using physical force against children facing removal.
The shocking recommendations have come from the Independent Family Returns Panel, headed by Chris Spencer, a former Director of Education and Children’s Services.
The Panel’s role is to advise the Home Office on the process for families who have reached the end of the process, but recommendations in its new report contradict both the Government’s pledge to end the detention of children for immigration purposes, the widespread evidence that detention causes children harm.
In its report, the Panel calls for new powers to enable officials to use force against children during the removal process.
It also slams existing policy which stipulates that no more than 10% of families in the returns process should be detained at Cedars immigration removal centre. It calls the limit ‘arbitrary’ and ‘unrelated to children’s best interests’.
We couldn’t disagree more. The Refugee Council do not believe any asylum seeker should be detained for administrative convenience, least of all children.
The Home Office has accepted the Panel’s recommendations, but says that its position on using physical force against children is under review and any changes will be the subject of public consultation.
Refugee Council Head of Advocacy Dr. Lisa Doyle said: “The Government knows that imprisoning vulnerable children can cause lasting psychological and emotional damage so it’s astounding to hear it’s considering detaining more children and using physical force in order to remove them.”
Elsewhere in its report, the Panel queried the quality of decision making by Home Office officials placing families into the returns process. For 20% of families placed in the returns process, removal was not pursued.
This isn’t the first time the quality of Home Office decisions on family cases has been called into question. Last summer, UNHCR called for a more family-friendly asylum process following an audit of family cases which revealed patchy quality of decision making.
Currently, the Home Office only interviews the main asylum applicant. UNHCR raised concerns that this process failed to acknowledge that other family members may have their own protection needs and recommended that officials interviewed all family members. The Home Office rejected this recommendation.
Refugee Council’s Dr. Doyle added: “Families facing removal often fear that their lives will be at risk if they return to their home country. Given the stress and pressure removal can cause, it’s disgraceful that so many people can be placed in the process unnecessarily.
“Perhaps the Home Office’s energies would be better spent improving the quality of decision making and treating people with the dignity they deserve, rather than on locking up vulnerable children and physically forcing them out of the country.”