The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith MP, yesterday announced the government’s intention to lift the immigration reservation to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UK entered its reservation when it ratified the Convention in 1991, which restricts the rights of children who are subject to immigration control.
The detail of how this may impact on children’s day to day lives will not be immediately apparent, as the Convention does not form part of domestic law. However, this is something that the Refugee Council, along with other NGOs, has been pressing for for some time. It is particularly significant in that it ends what is in effect a discriminatory approach to children’s rights.
The move was announced during Ms Smith’s speech to the Labour Party Conference, during which she also declared the government would “always respect the rights of those genuinely fleeing persecution and seeking a safe haven here”. She went on to add “where it is right to do so, we will strengthen those protections further.” The reservation is due to be formally lifted in Geneva this week.
Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:
“This is welcome news. We are very pleased the government has finally recognised that refugee children are children first and foremost and should have the same rights as all other children.
“It remains to be seen how this plays out in practice. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights last week released a damning report into the way asylum seekers are treated in the UK, and made particular reference to the detention of children. We can only hope that lifting the reservation signals the end of this appalling practice, and a move towards a more humane way of dealing with children who seek asylum in Britain. The government now needs to ensure that children’s rights and equality are at the forefront of policies that affect them.”