Kids, who’d have ‘em? Not the British, by all accounts. We would rather pay more for our airfares, apparently, than risk the irritation of the child in front of us leaning back in his or her seat during a flight. What’s more, their GCSEs are easier than the ones we took, which is terribly unfair, and ‘feral children’ stalk our streets - and yet we never hear drunken adults described as ‘feral’ when they pick fights and vandalise our town centres at weekends.
Why am I going on in this vein? Because the Home Office has again laid bare our deep-rooted hostility to young people.
A July 2012 Court of Appeal case concerned eight Afghan minors who had each arrived in the UK alone to seek asylum, but had been refused refugee status and were now appealing that decision. Their appeals were based on the UK’s failure to meet its obligation, under a 2003 European Commission directive, to protect an unaccompanied minor’s best interests by trying to trace the members of his or her family as soon as possible.
This is the responsibility of the secretary of state for the Home Office and it is a responsibility that, according to the judgment, was ‘effectively ignored’ between 2006 and 2010, in the process undermining ‘the appellants’ prospects of making good their asylum claims’.
Lord Justice Maurice McKay, giving the lead judgment, said: ‘This was not just a haphazard coincidence in the present cases… the irresistible inference is that it was deliberate and systemic.’ He went on to ‘caricature’ the defence submitted on behalf of the secretary of state that the minors had been directed towards the International Red Cross for help finding their families as ‘an entitlement to do next to nothing, which I find equally unsustainable’.
He allowed the appeal of the first appellant and gave the remaining seven 14 days to submit skeleton arguments as to how their appeals are to be brought. The secretary of state will then have 14 days to set out her case.
So there we have it: eight refugee children aged 15-16 years old, in a strange country, told to contact the International Red Cross for help. That is something that native teenagers, even with the help of their parents, would struggle to achieve. These refugees – and they are refugees, Afghanistan is a very dangerous place - had come here in the belief that we would protect them. That we would say: kids are kids, even if they are refugees.
But they were quickly disabused of that delusion. And this isn’t a case of extrapolating from one swallow to announce full summer. We have a shameful record with child refugees, despite the coalition’s May 2010 pledge to ‘end the detention of children for immigration purposes’.
The refugee charity Medical Justice published State Sponsored Cruelty in September 2010, a report comprising interviews with 141 families and children who had been detained at Yarl’s Wood and other removal centres. It contains harrowing accounts of dawn raids, attempted suicides, and the other psychological and physiological effects of detention on young minds already traumatised by events in the countries from which they have escaped.
Things have not notably improved since. The Refugee Council in May 2012 published a paper: Not a minor offence: unaccompanied children locked up as part of the asylum system.
Children are still being banged up, often because they do not have the documentation to prove their age – unsurprising given that they have usually fled a country plunged into the chaos of war.
I like kids – I have four of them, all grown up now – and I’m sure you like them, too. So when are we going to stop our government inflicting cruelty on innocent children in our name?
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