The Refugee Council has today joined other charities in urging the government to rethink its new proposals to start returning children to Afghanistan. A BBC report today showed that the UK government has joined up with Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands to create the European Return Platform for Unaccompanied Minors (ERPUM), set up with backing from the European Union. It will mean Afghan children aged 16-17 whose asylum claims have been refused may be sent to Kabul from next year. ERPUM says its objectives are “to develop methods and contacts in order to find the parents of the minors who shall return home, but also to find safe and adequate shelter in the country of origin”.
But the news is cause for alarm among refugee and children’s charities, who fear for the welfare of these children.
Judith Dennis, Advocacy Officer at the Refugee Council said:
“It is indefensible that the UK government believes it acceptable to send young people back to Afghanistan, when it is clearly still an extremely dangerous environment for Afghan people. It seems the development of a returns programme is motivated by deterring young people from coming here, and completely ignores the reasons young people leave their homes and make hugely traumatic journeys to the UK in the first place. We urge ministers to urgently review these plans and put the welfare of these children at the heart of their policies, rather than focusing on reducing numbers.
“More needs to be done to ensure that children’s asylum claims can be fully investigated before efforts are made to find family members and reunite them in the country from which they fled. All aspects of the children’s lives need very sensitive examination so that we can be sure we never return them to countries where their lives may be at risk.”
One of the Refugee Council’s young clients, Ahmed age 17, spoke out about his experiences in Afghanistan:
Ahmed says he saw the Taliban torture his father when he was a young boy. “Taliban used to come every day beating my dad, and hitting him hard – he used to bleed – he was kicked and punched and beaten,” he said. He says the Taliban said his father was an unbeliever and cut off his arm, which of course resulted in the family feeling even more frightened for their own safety.
Three years ago, when Ahmed was 14, he says he was told he was the next target, so he fled to the UK by himself and claimed asylum. He still thinks about his experiences and worries that he will have to return to a situation where he would not be safe. “If I go back home, I could hide for a few days but the Taliban will come to know about me… then either they will kill me, or they will ask me to become a suicide bomber,” he says.
Last year 547 applications from separated children were from those fleeing Afghanistan.
Concerns have been raised about the quality of decision making on children’s claims as well as the legal advice that they receive, as documented in the Refugee Council report ‘Lives in the Balance’.