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UK commissioners welcome end to detaining child asylum seekers

There is a pressing need to end the detention of children for immigration purposes to avoid the damage it causes, the UK’s children’s commissioners have said, urging the UK government to do so swiftly while new arrangements are put in place.

In a joint response to the coalition government’s consultation on ending the detention of children, the four commissioners welcomed the government’s plan to stop detaining children in the asylum system.

The response acknowledged that the welfare of children in the asylum and immigration systems presents significant challenges but insisted that when it becomes necessary to require children and their parents to leave the UK, the safety and welfare of the young people affected must be paramount.

England children’s commissioner Maggie Atkinson, who has a UK-wide remit on asylum policy, said: “As a previous report from my office has stated, the starting point for any alternative should be developing community-based alternatives to detention, which ensure that children’s needs are met, and their rights not breached, during the process of removal.

“My joint response with the other UK Children’s Commissioners proposed some practical principles that should underpin any alternatives to detention. We have also highlighted aspects of systems used in other countries that could be helpfully adapted for use in the UK,” she continued.

BASW has already welcomed the government’s policy shift towards detaining children and young people, and welcomed the commissioners’ report. Joint England manager Nushra Mansuri said: “The children’s commissioners and the chief inspector of prisons Anne Owers have already long-since exposed the damage of detention.

“A lot of work has been carried out already in looking at the international models and we need to draw on good practice elsewhere and look at good viable alternatives with humane conditions,” she added.

The commissioners said they were pleased that the terms of reference for the government consultation involved the provision of legal representation. The report said that because of the complexity of asylum, there should be competent, high quality legal representation guaranteed at the outset of the claim in order for the applicant to be able to fully put their case forward.

In parallel to legal representation, the UK’s commissioners argued that UK Border Agency should also consider ways of improving the quality of decision-making in the asylum process.