The children’s commissioner for England has expressed her “deep concern” about how unaccompanied children will be treated in the UK under the government’s heavily criticised illegal migration bill.
Rachel de Souza attempted to seek an urgent meeting with Suella Braverman before the home secretary outlined the proposals on Monday and succeeded in pushing the legislation through the Commons.
De Souza has claimed the proposals are “opaque” on how children’s rights will be affected and raise questions about where the vulnerable children “in need of care and protection” will be housed and whether they will have access to services while they are awaiting removal from the UK.
In the Commons, Braverman told MPs that the duty to remove “will not be applied to detain and remove unaccompanied asylum-seeking children”.
“Consistent with current policy, only in limited circumstances, such as for the purposes of family reunion, we will remove unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from the UK.
“Otherwise they will be provided with the necessary support in the UK until they reach 18. With respect to the removal of families and pregnant women, it bears repeating that the overwhelming majority of illegal arrivals are adult men under the age of 40. Removing them will be our primary focus.”
But in a letter to the home secretary, the children’s commissioner sought to clarify “in what circumstances would the power to remove unaccompanied asylum-seeking children be used” and “how decisions will be made about which children will be housed in Home Office-run accommodation while awaiting transfer versus being directly transferred to local authority care”.
De Souza said it was “vital” that all children had access to an independent child trafficking guardian while they were housed in temporary hotel accommodation or a detention centre if they had been identified as a victim of trafficking.
De Souza’s move comes after Theresa May criticised Braverman’s plan, warning that “anybody who thinks that this bill will deal with the issue of illegal migration once and for all is wrong”.
The former prime minister said: “But what should be clear from this is whenever you close a route, the migrants and the people-smugglers find another way, and anybody who thinks that this bill will deal with the issue of illegal migration once and for all is wrong.”
Conservative former justice secretary Sir Robert Buckland also criticised the plans, and expressed “great concern” at the prospect of detaining children.