Immigration policy is too often prioritised over the welfare of vulnerable migrant children, a committee of MPs has concluded.
According to a report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, unaccompanied children often face extensive interviews after their arrival in the UK, interviews for which interpreters may not be available. They may also be placed in inadequate housing without proper support and offered only patchy educational opportunities.
Such children have often fled violence, abuse or exploitation in the countries of origin, enduring traumatic journeys travelling to the UK without their parents.
Nevertheless, the MPs state:
“…despite the rights to protection and support owed to those children by the UK under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, immigration concerns are too often given priority.”
The MPs call for “…a change in emphasis to put the best interests of such children at the heart of the often complex and stressful asylum and immigration processes affecting them.”
The recommended changes include
*”Overcoming the ‘culture of disbelief’ about the age of unaccompanied migrant children”. Frequent disputes about the age of the children put “their welfare and best interests at risk”.
*”Clearer decision-making about the future of children”. Such decisions are often delayed until the children approach adulthood.
*’More concerted efforts to bring best interests to the fore in making and implementing policy’. A new cross-government strategy is needed to protect unaccompanied migrant children.
“Unaccompanied refugee and migrant children have often been through experiences unimaginable to most of us. They are alone in the UK with no one to care for them. The Committee’s report is a timely reminder that the UK is still failing to meet its legal obligations to these children. Too often their rights are not realised in practice and they are denied the support and protection they so desperately need.”
“It is long overdue that children’s best interests are truly put at the heart of all decisions made about them, whatever their status. It is vital that central and local government take real and prompt action to implement the many practical and systemic changes needed, as recommended in this important report, so that we do not continue to fail these children.”