Informing Parliament : Immigration and Refugees

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Children has held a number of meetings over the summer. I reported on six meetings last month; here are accounts of the final two meetings.

Ed Balls MP (Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families) returned to provide an update on the Children’s Plan and the new department’s first year.

  • He said that the Children’s Plan reflected learning from the experience of implementing the Every Child Matters programme and in particularly seeks to provide the leverage to underpin further integration in local areas. He highlighted three aspects of the Plan: promotion of children’s well-being; recognition of parents and families as the most important influence on children’s lives; and early intervention and prevention.
  • On children’s well-being, the Secretary of State rejected the idea that there is any tension between the two goals of promoting well-being and driving up educational standards. He said that the majority of schools do see well-being as central to a child’s ability to do well at school, and referred attendees to the new guidance for schools on promoting well-being which has been published for consultation[1].
  • He referred to a number of initiatives which seek to support parents in caring for their child – for example, the Byron Review, which found that parents need support and guidance to help them navigate the Internet and ensure their child is safe.
  • On to prevention and early intervention, he focused on schools’ relationships with other services – such as child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), social services, housing and the police. The Government’s vision is for each school to get the support it needs from other services, while also playing its part in preventing the development of more serious problems for children and young people.
  • Finally, the Secretary of State talked about the need to improve accountability arrangements across children’s trusts, and referred the audience to proposals for legislative change, published on 3 July[2], which include: making the Children and Young People’s Plan statutory; placing children’s trusts on a statutory footing; and a stronger legislative framework for pooling resources and joint commissioning.

Thursday 17 July: Joint meeting of the APPG Refugees and Children on the UK’s Immigration Reservation on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) with speakers Dragan Nastic, UNICEF, Sandhya Drew, Tooks Chambers, and Lou King, Save the Children

Dragan Nastic, UNICEF put forward the case of the UK Government to withdraw from the Convention.

  • When the UK ratified the Convention in 1991, it entered several reservations to allow UK legislation to override parts of the Convention, including on immigration. It is not very clear what the reasons behind the reservation are – it seems as though the UK Government had other problems with the Convention, not strictly Article 22.
  • With the UN Committee this year examining the UK’s compliance with the UNCRC, he believes this is a good time to engage with the issue of the reservation and explore the link between it and effective immigration control, and the associated implications.

Sandhya Drew, Tooks Chambers provided the legal context. She said there is a need for basic rights and protection, and that the fundamental point is that instead of refugee children being given recorded safety they are getting the opposite.

  • The principles should be uncontroversial. It is a balancing act – balancing the rights of children with the rights of nations to balance and control their borders, and the differing interests of immigration control and the rights of immigration and asylum-seeking children.
  • The core principles are: Article 2 – the principle of non-discrimination; and Article3 – the principle of the best interests of the child. Article 22 then sets out the specific ways in which children should be protected.
  • The UK’s reservation is contrary to the two principles. It does not apply the same protection for all as it discriminates, overtly singling out asylum and refugee children. It has given primacy to the control of the Government over the rights of the child – the balancing act has shifted too far in the direction of immigration control.
  • The Government position has been to say that the reservations make no difference to the treatment of children. If that is so, then there is no reason why it should not be withdrawn. The NGO report to the UN Committee shows otherwise however. This is seen in the processes for entry, staying and departure, with the way interviews and age determination is carried out; in the conditions in detention, and with children in the care system going missing. That would change if the reservation is removed.
  • There is unequal protection in the courts due to the confusion around child’s rights. If you are the child of a prisoner, there is a full determination of your best interests. If you are a child in the immigration system, it is inconsistent, depending on who your lawyer and judge are. Some refuse to look at the Convention entirely; others don’t.
  • Principles should apply to all. Arguments for the withdrawal of the reservation are very simple – it would enable the Convention to play its part in policy and practice with the extension of the eleven duties; there is no reason why it should stay.

Lou King, Save the Children said that the way that children speak should remove any doubt about whether the reservation should be withdrawn.

  • Children say it’s discriminatory and unequal. They used the words, “Left out, outcast, rejected, humiliated” to describe how the reservation made them feel, and say that they feel as though the Government is stigmatising them and giving them fewer protection rights.
  • The UK Government is due to be reviewed by the UNCRC this year. Throughout 1995-2002, the UNCRC recommended that the reservation was removed, but the Government has ignored this.
  • Save the Children and Unicef think that the Government should remove the reservation now, in which case the UN Committee can praise them for removing it instead of criticising them for a third time.

Parliament will rise for summer recess on Tuesday 22 July, returning on Monday 6 October. The next meeting of the APPG for Children is scheduled for Tuesday 14 October.

Please contact Sally Cole, Clerk to the APPGC on 020 7843 1907 or by email to [email protected]:

  • To be added to the email mailing list to receive minutes and invitations to meetings
  • For copies of minutes from any of the meetings
  • For any further information about the Group

[1] Schools’ Role in Promoting Pupil Well-being – Draft Guidance for Consultation[2] Delivering the Children’s Plan – Strengthening Children’s Trusts: legislative options

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