Most of us hoped that the presence of the Lib Dems in the new government would see transference of at least some of their manifesto pledges on immigration into actual Government policy. However, one of the Coalition’s first announcements concerning asylum policy does much to dash these hopes.
It has just been announced that the Coalition is pressing on with Labour’s plans to set up a new £4 million Re-integration Centre in Kabul. It is envisaged that this centre will deal with young Afghan males aged 16 and 17 and will also be able to house up to 120 adults at any one time. Under the terms of the public tender for providing services to the centre it is noted that “The assistance offered will include a range of services appropriate to the needs of returnees, including vocational training and work placement opportunities.”
The UK Border Agency’s current policy is that no unaccompanied child who claims asylum will be removed from the United Kingdom unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that safe and adequate reception arrangements are in place in the country to which the child is to be removed. Until now this has proved a major block to the removal of failed asylum seekers under the age of 18. However this new policy shift is aimed directly at the largest group of unaccompanied minors who claim asylum namely those from Afghanistan.
The announcement accords with a trend amongst other EU member states to return unaccompanied Afghan minors back to their home country. Norway has similar plans for a reception centre in Kabul. Other countries thought to be considering the possibility of returns include Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands.
The UK’s plans provoked immediate concern from some. Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council stated that “There has been little said about how these children would be kept safe… If they have no family to whom they can be returned safely, should they be returned at all? There are serious questions to be raised about the quality of decision-making on the cases of unaccompanied children. The money would be better spent improving the way that children’s claims are assessed, so that we can be sure we never put them in danger.”
It remains to be seen if the centre will come to fruition. However, should it prove unsuccessful, this could lead to serious consequences for unaccompanied minors from Afghanistan and serious recriminations for the Coalition given their responsibilities for these children’s welfare.