Rwanda, Unaccompanied Children, and the UK Home Office: An initial response

Kerri Prince is a Councillor in Hillingdon, and is on the Open Labour National Committee.

It is common in modern political discourse for politicians to use even more controversial announcements to distract people from a story that the politician doesn’t want to be front and centre.

This week, we found out that Boris Johnson had been fined by the Metropolitan Police for breaking lockdown rules. This understandably led to calls for the Prime Minister to resign, with even one of his own justice ministers resigning in protest. Boris needed a story that would anger his critics even more – and as of Thursday morning, it seems to be working.

On the evening of 13th April, it was announced that the UK had secured a deal with Rwanda to have asylum-seekers processed there instead of the UK. The deal is said to be signed on 14th April by the Home Secretary.

While information about this ‘scheme’ is yet to be published in full, it is safe to assume that as it is Priti Patel’s Home Office that is responsible, we will learn some deeply unethical information about this scheme. I am sure we will also hear about the failures in the scheme, and why it will not work the way that Home Office officials seem to think it will.

Interest groups and immigration experts will be poring over the detail once published, but as of right now, there are a lot of questions and concerns that need addressing.

I’ve written before for Open Labour, on the issue of the Nationality and Borders Bill and how it impacts unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Like all children in the care of the state, it is important that we are standing up for the rights of unaccompanied children that arrive on British soil – or Rwandan soil in this case.…

When a person arrives in the UK unaccompanied, with no documents to prove their age, and they claim to be under 18 but there is doubt about their claim, a ‘Merton compliant age assessment’ is carried out by local authorities. Until these age assessments have been carried out, the person in question must be treated as a child. That is because there are certain protections and safeguarding that come with being under 18 in the UK, and it is far safer to treat them as a child until it is determined otherwise. It is common to hear reports that children have been placed in hotel accommodation with other adults. Local authorities – such as Hillingdon Council – have been taken to court in the past due to putting children in adult accommodation.

There are many conversations to be had about the financial pressures faced by local authorities, and the high costs that come with a child being the responsibility of the local authority. But this is no excuse for the deeply unethical and dangerous approach of putting children in adult accommodation with little to no safeguarding or monitoring.

We are being told that children will not be sent to Rwanda. But if children are being placed in adult accommodation in the UK – despite this being illegal and against Home Office guidance – how can we be certain that they will not be sent to Rwanda?

If a Home Office official on the border judges a young person to look over 18 when they arrive in the UK, there is a very real possibility that they will end up on a plane to Rwanda, especially if they’re not aware of their rights. These are young people who have travelled to the UK in stressful conditions, with no sleep, limited food and water – that would make us all appear older than we are.

There must be no compromise – if there is any dispute over the age of an unaccompanied young person arriving in the UK, they must not be removed until a full and proper age assessment has been carried out, and the entire appeal process exhausted. This is the bare minimum of any system that outsources any asylum claim to another country.

But we must also be clear that this entire plan by the Government is extortionate, unworkable, and unethical, as described by Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper. Ethically, this plan is gross. But practically in terms of cost to the UK taxpayer, it is also absurd. Australia operate a similar scheme, which is estimated to have cost them AUS$10BN for 3127 people – which is £1.7m per person. In the UK, the current cost of processing an asylum claim is £12k. This suggests that offshore processing would cost over a hundred times more – costing us billions. In a cost of living crisis where the Government are refusing to help people who cannot afford to properly feed their families or heat their homes, is this really the best use of taxpayers money? Spending billions of pounds to appease a couple of vocal right-wingers about boat crossings is not an action worthy of a responsible government.

The Government is pandering to their base ahead of a large set of local elections due to take place in just 3 weeks – and they will hope it will detract from the criminal record of the Prime Minister. With the House of Commons in recess, and Easter weekend just about to start, this is classic timing from the Home Office.

This announcement is the start of what is likely to be a heavily scrutinised Government policy. There will be legal challenges, protests, and our reputation on the world stage will continue to worsen.

All to save one man’s political career?

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