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British lawmakers urge government not to deport child asylum seekers to Rwanda

June 27, 2023 at 7:58 pm

Hundreds of demonstrators gather during a protest against the UK’s plan to send migrants and asylum seekers to Rwanda and the court’s decision on the matter in front of the Ministry of Interior in London, United Kingdom on June 13, 2022. [Raşid Necati Aslım – Anadolu Agency]

Britain must rule out any intention to detain asylum-seeking children or forcibly remove them to Rwanda, concluded a new parliamentary report published on Tuesday, Anadolu Agency reports.

In its report on equality and the UK asylum process, Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee raised concerns about “unnecessary risks” that vulnerable people face due to recent legislation, including a deal signed last year for asylum seekers to be deported to Rwanda until their applications are processed.

The report said the Nationality and Borders Act, which was passed in April 2022, was inadequately assessed for its impact on equality as it remained unclear how the risks of unequal effects will be mitigated.

It said the potential harms of detaining and removing asylum-seeking children to Rwanda “outweigh” any risk to the deterrent effect intended by the government’s reforms.

The UK paid Rwanda €120 million ($146 million) upfront to facilitate the implementation of the five-year agreement which the British government hopes could help deter migrants from making the risky journey across the English Channel on small boats.

READ: The irony of ‘World Refugee Day’: ‘Celebrating’, then blaming the victims

The report also called for an “urgent review” of safeguards for vulnerable people in asylum accommodation, including existing contingency accommodation and the proposed use of barges, which the Home Office announced earlier this year.

It described the current housing of vulnerable people — including of women and children — in crowded temporary asylum accommodation as “unacceptable”.

The committee recommended that the government monitor and reduce the “unequal effects” of its asylum reforms, including on women with histories of sexual and gender-based violence and abuse. It urged the Home Office to stop the “dangerous practice” of moving pregnant women between asylum accommodation settings and highlighted that mothers and babies should only move after receiving clinical advice and with the mother’s consent.

Committee Chair, Caroline Nokes, a lawmaker from the ruling Conservatives, said the inquiry took place in the context of an asylum system under immense strain, with increasing numbers of claims and a staggering rise in the backlog of people waiting for a decision on their case.

“We were disturbed by the Home Office’s inadequate management of risks of harm to asylum seekers with protected characteristics,” she said, adding that a leading concern was the treatment of children within the asylum system.

“Any intention to detain child asylum seekers under the Illegal Migration Bill and forcibly remove them to Rwanda must be abandoned. The risk of harm to children outweighs any perceived damage to the effectiveness of the Government’s policy agenda.”

Illegal Migration Bill and Rwanda plan

Introduced in March, this year, the UK government’s “Illegal Migration Bill” which aimed to remove migrants who enter the country on small boats, has been met with criticism from human rights groups and refugee advocates who argue that it violates international law and the UK’s obligations under the Refugee Convention.

The plan includes detaining the majority of those arriving on small boats for the first 28 days without bail or judicial review.

Last year, the British government announced a new and controversial relocation plan that would see asylum seekers attempting to enter the UK being sent to Rwanda for resettlement.

The policy, known as “Rwanda plan”, sparked international criticism. But the British High Court ruled in December that the plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda are lawful.

More than 44,000 migrants arrived in the UK across the English Channel last year.

READ: UK: Refugees deported to Rwanda will cost taxpayers $215,000 each