Briefing on the new family returns process
As the Government seeks to enshrine the new family returns process onto the statute books as part of the 2014 Immigration Bill, Barnardo’s has published a briefing on what is working and what can be improved in the returns process.
The briefing is based on the experience Barnardo’s has gained while providing welfare and social care services to families within the Home Office’s pre-departure accommodation, Cedars.
The charity finds that overall the new system has considerably improved the experience of children and families in the ‘ensured return’ part of the immigration process. The time families spend in pre-departure accommodation is limited to 72 hours (or in exceptional circumstances with ministerial approval, a maximum of a week) and the numbers of children held prior to removal has drastically reduced (from 1,120 children in 2009 to 90 in Cedars in 2012-13).
However, despite the progress, there is still more to do to improve the Families Returns Process and the wider asylum and immigration system for children and their parents, says Barnardo’s.
The charity has highlighted in particular concerns where children are being separated from their parents for the purposes of immigration control. The charity is also concerned about the arrest and escort of families to and from Cedars; and the area of non-compliant behaviour management; and in regards to the number of families for whom Cedars is not the ‘final stage of the journey’.
Barnardo’s has made a number of recommendations to better protect the welfare of these vulnerable children and their families, including:
- The Home Office should put in place a specialist escort team specifically for family returns. This team should include in-country and overseas escorts; and be fully trained in safeguarding and working with children and families.
- Children should never be separated from their parent or parents for the purposes of immigration control. Children should only be separated from their parent or parents if there is a safeguarding or welfare concern.
- Any potential family split should be included as part of the return plan or contingency, authorised by the Minister and scrutinised by the Independent Family Returns Panel. There should be clear plans in place for reunification, and any split should take place for the shortest possible time. Family splits should be clearly documented and the outcome reviewed by all agencies as part of 'lessons learned' meetings.
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