Clause 16

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:45 pm on 13th March 2007.

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Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 12:45 pm, 13th March 2007

I thank the hon. Gentleman for probing a little more closely on that important category. If he will bear with me, I shall come to it. The protection issue that he raises is integral to our desire to apply such conditions to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We will apply reporting and residency conditions to children only when strictly necessary, either for their own welfare or with a view to closer contact management as they approach 18, particularly because, all things being equal, we will seek to remove unaccompanied asylum-seeking children when they reach the age of 18.

We will liaise with local authorities when deciding on the application of the conditions to children in care. Let me remind the Committee—the hon. Member for Rochdale has clearly taken much interest in the matter—that on 1 March we published a consultation paper on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, “Planning Better Outcomes and Support for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children”. That includes proposals to reduce the disproportionate burden of caring for such children that falls on local  authorities in London and the south-east. It proposes concentrating care provision for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in local authority areas in which special infrastructure exists, and ensuring that care planning takes into account a young person’s immigration status.

Although unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have many needs in common with other children in care, they also have some very different needs and reasons for being in care. Many are much older when they go into the care system, and their problem is that they are separated from their families. It could be that they are not being returned to their country of origin not because they are at risk of harm or in danger because of the circumstances in the country, but because the reception arrangements do not exist, or we  cannot establish them in order to return them safely. As the consultation paper indicates, we are working very closely with social workers and local authorities to ensure that specialist care is in place and that communication with social workers is good. It is much improved; there have been problems in the past in that regard and that is why we are taking measures to address them.