In the absence of adequate reception arrangements in the country of origin, our policy is not to return unaccompanied children who are refused asylum. Instead, we grant leave until they reach adulthood. At that point, individuals can make further representations, but if they do not qualify for protection or another form of leave, it is right that they leave the United Kingdom. Support is available for people to return voluntarily.
I thank the Minister. I tabled a Written Question on
There is no reluctance on the part of the Home Office to answer these questions. Given the diverse number of figures that the noble Lord has mentioned, it might be difficult to determine which of them was wrong and which was right.
My Lords, if it is unsafe for youngsters to return to their countries of origin before they are 18, how do those countries suddenly become safe? I ask this question because a number of young people with family here—I have met such young people, some of whom are as young as six—suddenly discover, when they are 18 and starting school, that they do not have the right papers. Why has that not been investigated sooner? Why are children not returned home sooner when it is safe, not at 18 when their lives are changing?
With regard to children who have been here from the tender ages mentioned by the noble Baroness, I would point out that where a person under 18 has lived continuously in the United Kingdom for seven years or more and it would be unreasonable to expect them to leave, arrangements will be made for them to remain.
Whether it be a matter of assistance for voluntary return or of compulsory return where someone has overstayed and has no right to remain, in the first instance this Government will always seek to ensure that there are appropriate reception arrangements for a person returning to a country of origin.
My Lords, many of these young people have no memory of the countries that they are being deported to and no experience of living independently in those countries. Can the Minister imagine a teenage relative of his being deported to somewhere like Afghanistan to fend for themselves? Will he explain how this policy is justified?
The majority of unaccompanied minor children making asylum applications are aged 16 or 17 years, have not been here for many years and have not lost contact with their country of origin. With regard to the country of origin, at least one-third of those making applications in 2015 were from either Albania or Afghanistan. In the circumstances where they volunteer to return, appropriate arrangements are made to assist them. Meetings with NGOs or social workers are arranged for them, and they are given considerable assistance, equivalent to a maximum value of £1,500, if they go through the voluntary return procedure.
My Lords, adolescence is a pretty stressful and turbulent time for young people in any circumstances. Obviously, being unable to make plans for your future, and perhaps being terrified of being returned to your country of origin, will make your growing up a little more difficult. Can the Minister assure the House that young people facing deportation will have their mental health assessed, and that the state of their mental health will be taken into account before such a decision is finally made?
Where an unaccompanied minor makes an application for leave to remain, they will be granted leave for at least 13 months or until they reach the age of 17 and a half. An assessment will then be made as to whether or not it would be reasonable to return them. Whether that involves a positive mental health check I cannot say, but I would be happy to write to the noble Baroness on that point.
The Home Office gathers evidence with regard to all potential countries of return from diverse sources before arriving at a conclusion as to whether the available evidence indicates that a person can be returned without risk of persecution or serious harm.
I am not entirely clear what the noble Baroness refers to by way of the criteria, but I will consider what she has said and I will undertake to write if we are in a position to do so.
The Home Office has regard to all in-country reports that are available to it before arriving at a conclusion with regard to individual countries.