In March, the government announced changes to the UK’s asylum system which will see people crossing the Channel in small boats denied the opportunity to seek safety in the UK. This equates to a ban on the human right to seek asylum. These changes will have horrific consequences for all people simply trying to seek sanctuary, reach family and rebuild their lives – including children.
Anyone who has arrived into the UK after the 7th March now faces being completely excluded from the UK’s asylum system. This is in spite of a total lack of authorized safe routes, meaning that children and families – many from Afghanistan, Syria and other war-torn countries – are simply left with no other choice than to risk their lives on dangerous journeys to reach safety in the UK.
In practice, this means that:
- Anyone, including any child that now arrived in the UK to seek safety via irregular routes will be unable to claim any protection, be they alone or with their families. The Refugee Council estimates that within the first three years this could include between 39,500 and 45,066 children.
- Children can be detained with their families indefinitely on arrival. Immigration detention is similar to prison. The Refugee Council estimates that as many as 45,000 children might be detained.
- Children can be deported with their families without asylum applications being processed, or can be sent to Rwanda.
- Those awaiting removal who are not detained will only be reliant on the minimal support and accommodation given currently to those whose asylum claims have been refused.
- The Child Welfare panel which was established to oversee removal decisions and protect children’s rights and wellbeing is banned from being involved in deportation processes.
- Those who cannot be removed as a result of conflict in the country of origin (like Afghanistan, Syria, etc), will essentially be in limbo, unable to access any form of status, rebuild their lives and access social security. This means more children will face homelessness, destitution and hunger and be at risk of trafficking and exploitation.
- Children who are born in the UK and have at least one parent who arrived irregularly will not be entitled to citizenship. This could also punish children and families who are already in the UK, for instance if a child already in the UK and on a pathway to citizenship is now joined by a parent, they will be banned from citizenship.
- Whilst children who arrive separated from their families will not be removed, this will kick in as soon as they turn 18 at which point they will be faced with detention before their birthdays, pending removal. This increases the risk of children trying to disappear and being trafficked and forced into modern slavery.
- The use of hotel accommodation will be embedded within legislation which gives the Home Office the powers to house children, despite numerous examples of children housed in hotels being missing and recruited into exploitation and slavery.
- People, including children, who arrive as victims of modern slavery or trafficking will not be protected from removal and will no longer have access to specialist victim support. This would include cases like that of Sir Mo Farah.
Not only do these changes represent a trashing of refugee rights and a dereliction of our international obligations under the UN Refugee Convention, but also a complete failure to uphold the rights of children.
These plans are in part a response to the public’s backlash against the use of hotels as initial accommodation for people who have newly arrived. The use of hotels is expensive and has caused a lot of public anger.* But this is a problem of the government’s own making. We currently have over 150,000 unprocessed asylum cases. This backlog means that instead of waiting a few months for a decision on an asylum claim, people often now have to wait years. During this time, most people can’t work, are often moved around with little notice and are unable to rebuild their lives. If the system functioned better, there would be no need to house people in expensive, unsuitable, and in some cases outright dangerous, hotel accommodation.
Are you as horrified and heartbroken as we are?
It doesn’t have to be this way: take action with us!
Rather than forcing through cruel, unjust and possibly illegal policies, we need a system that recognises the humanity and rights of people seeking sanctuary, one that centers fairness and compassion.
What can you do?
1) Stand up and speak out
Talk to your colleagues, friends and family members and help them understand the horrific implications of the Bill. Think about the people in your community and the children in your school. Write to your local paper, call in to your local radio and encourage others to stand up too. This government says that we want this law – so we need to shout from the rooftops that WE DON’T.
2) Email your MP
Speak from the heart and make it personal: tell them exactly why this cruel and unfair law doesn’t represent you. People fleeing war and persecution deserve protection not punishment. Ask your MP to represent you by standing up against this new law. Click here to find your MP’s contact details.
We’re louder and stronger when we’re together. Join your local City of Sanctuary group today, work to become a School of Sanctuary, volunteer, donate and campaign. Whatever resources you have – time, funds, space or even the opportunity to provide a break for people seeking sanctuary – we can signpost and connect you to the right groups. This is a movement of welcome and everyone is needed.
4) Have hope.
Look after yourself and those around you. Spend time with friends and allies. Remind yourself time & time again that love trumps hate. When we come together we can do incredible things. It’s on us to build a welcoming UK – so let’s get started.
Want to learn more?
- Refugee Children’s Consortium: Briefing on the Illegal Immigration Bill 2023
- Children’s Rights Alliance for England: Care for every child: Duties to care for children must apply equally to all children
- The Children’s Commissioner: Statement on the Illegal Immigration Bill
- UNICEF UK: Statement on the Illegal Immigration Bill
- Children’s social care bodies unite against asylum bill that ‘profoundly undermines Children Act’ – Community Care
- Coram Children’s Legal Centre: Children’s organisations led by Coram write to Home Secretary with concerns over child detention proposals
- Refugee Council – Nearly 200,000 people could be locked up or forced into destitution, new report on asylum bill reveals