The government’s controversial Section 9 policy, which can split asylum seeker children from their families, should be ditched immediately before it does further damage, claim the UK’s two leading refugee charities.
With the Home Office deciding whether to implement Section 9 nationally and the first legal challenge to it being heard at the High Court today (Tuesday 31st), the Refugee Council and Refugee Action have released a comprehensive report into the 12 month pilot which highlights the misery caused by Section 9 and its complete failure to achieve its aims. .
“When it launched Section 9 the government said the aim was to encourage families to return home, and not to make them destitute. This report shows that it has achieved the complete opposite result. Families have been made homeless, had their support removed and are living in fear of having their children taken into care, and yet almost none have taken steps to leave the UK. Section 9 is inhumane and ineffective and should be dropped immediately,” says Maeve Sherlock, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council.
The report, based on the work of the two charities in the three pilot areas of the programme (Leeds, London, Manchester), shows that:
- Only one family has left the UK as a result of Section 9 (out of 116 included in the pilot)
- At the most, three families have signed up for voluntary return
- At least 32 families, more than a quarter, have gone underground
- 80% of parents on the pilot had mental health problems which have been made worse by Section 9
“This a harsh and ill thought out policy based on the flawed logic that making families destitute and threatening to take their children into care will coerce them into going home. The government needs to look at the alternative schemes, highlighted in the report, where case workers work closely with families and help them through the process. ” said Maeve Sherlock.
Sandy Buchan, Chief Executive of Refugee Action, said: “This cruel and unworkable policy is causing enormous suffering to vulnerable families and has completely failed to deliver on its objectives. To threaten parents with the loss of their children if they don’t sign a form that says they want to go home is unjust and inhumane. The proper place for all children, regardless of their immigration status, is with their parents.”
“Destitution and family separation should not be used as deliberate tools of coercion by any civilised society. This policy is especially troubling as it has come at a time when there is increasing doubt over whether or not some asylum seekers receive a full and fair hearing of their claim. We urge the Government to learn the lessons of this pilot and to look closely at more humane and effective incentive-based schemes that have proven successful elsewhere.”
The first legal challenge to Section 9 begins at the High Court on Tuesday 31st January, in which a mother of three from the Democratic Republic of Congo is challenging Section 9 on the basis that it violates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
On Sunday, 29 January, Tony McNulty, the immigration minister, spoke to the Observer about the Section 9 pilots and a Home Office source indicated that it was unlikely that Section 9 would be extended nationally.
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