New duty on UK Border Agency to safeguard children

02 September 2009

The Refugee Children’s Consortium, chaired by The Children's Society, has welcomed new legislation to protect children subject to immigration controls, including trafficked children and those seeking asylum.

Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 came into force on 2 November 2009. It places a duty on the UK Border Agency to have regard to children's safety and welfare in the course of their duty, while they are in the UK. This brings the UKBA into line with other agencies for the first time.

The Refugee Children’s Consortium, whose members include The Children’s Society and the Refugee Council, campaigned for 5 years for this change in law, and are now lobbying to ensure this new legislation results in real change for these vulnerable groups of children.

Until now, the UKBA have been exempt from the duty requiring institutions responsible for children to have regard to the need to safeguard and promote their welfare. This has left a major safeguarding gap for children who are subject to immigration control. Those who deal with them at ports of entry, within the asylum support system and, if they are detained, in Immigration Removal Centres were previously under no duty to act with regard to the need to safeguard and promote their welfare.

This change in legislation comes at a time of mounting concern about the treatment by the UK Border Agency of children subject to immigration controls, including those seeking asylum. Key issues of concern include:

  • Children and their families are being held in immigration detention centres without time limit, despite overwhelming evidence that this harms their welfare and health
  • Children and families are being forced into destitution by UKBA policy, living without even basic necessities including food to eat and a safe place to sleep
  • Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are struggling to get the help they need whilst in the UK, and under threat of forced returns to their country of origin

Lisa Nandy, Policy Adviser at The Children’s Society and Chair of the Refugee Children’s Consortium, comments: “This new legislation needs to trigger a fundamental change in the way the UK Border Agency treats the children in its care. These children need to be treated as children first and foremost when they are in the UK, and when they come into contact with the UKBA abroad. Forcing children into detention or destitution is simply incompatible with the UKBA’s new duty to have regard to their welfare and safety”.

Notes to Editors:

For further information contact: Rachael Bruce, Senior Media Officer, The Children’s Society on 020 7841 4427/ rdb@childsoc.org.uk.

The Refugee Children's Consortium (RCC) is a group of NGOs working collaboratively to ensure that the rights and needs of refugee children are promoted, respected and met in accordance with the relevant domestic, regional and international standards. The Children's Society currently chairs the RCC.

A full list of members of the RCC is available