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Home Office must rule out any plans to detain or remove children to Rwanda, say MPs

27 June 2023

The Government must rule out any intention to detain, or forcibly remove to Rwanda, asylum-seeking children, concludes a new report published by the Women and Equalities Committee on equality and the UK asylum process.

The Committee raises concerns about the “unnecessary risks” to vulnerable people presented by the Nationality and Borders Act, the UK/Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership and the Illegal Migration Bill. It describes the equality impact assessment of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 as “inadequate” because it fails to set out how the risks of unequal effects will be mitigated.  It says the potential harms of detaining and removing asylum-seeking children to Rwanda “outweigh” any risk to the deterrent effect intended by the Government’s reforms.

The Committee also calls for an “urgent review” of safeguards for vulnerable people in all types of asylum accommodation. This includes existing contingency accommodation and the proposed use of barges, which the Home Office announced earlier this year. The Committee’s report describes the current housing of vulnerable people – including single women, mothers, children and LGBT people – in crowded temporary asylum accommodation as “unacceptable”. The report calls for a needs-based risk assessment of all accommodation facilities, including barges, before any women, families, children or LGBT people at risk of hate crime are housed alongside single men.

The Committee recommends that the Government monitor and reduce the “unequal effects” of its asylum reforms, including on women with histories of sexual and gender-based violence and abuse. The report urges the Home Office to stop the “dangerous practice” of moving pregnant women between asylum accommodation settings and highlights that mothers and babies should only move after receiving clinical advice and with the mother’s consent.

MPs also raise concerns on the low level of financial support available to people seeking asylum. They note that while meeting essential living costs is challenging for all groups, evidence shows that women in the asylum system face specific difficulties related to maternity care and period poverty. The report calls on the Government to increase support to 70% of the standard rate of Universal Credit available to over 25s and to consider a separate higher rate for women, to help address period poverty.

Committee Chair, Caroline Nokes MP, said:

“This inquiry took place in the context of an asylum system under immense strain, with increasing numbers of claims and a staggering increase in the backlog of people waiting for a decision on their case.

“We set out to understand the fairness of the UK asylum process, looking specifically through the lens of the UK Equality Act at the treatment of those with vulnerabilities arising from their protected characteristics.

“We were disturbed by the Home Office’s inadequate management of risks of harm to asylum seekers with protected characteristics, including women, LGBT people, children and disabled people. Alarmingly, these risks will increase under the Government’s recent and planned reforms.  

“One of our biggest concerns is the treatment of children within the asylum system. Any intention to detain child asylum seekers under the Illegal Migration Bill and forcibly remove them to Rwanda must be abandoned. The risk of harm to children outweighs any perceived damage to the effectiveness of the Government’s policy agenda.”

Other key recommendations for the Government include:

  • Suspend notices of intent for removal to Rwanda and issue no new notices until all legal challenges are complete.
  • Publish official equality data on the protected characteristics of those within the asylum system, including those selected for removal to Rwanda and people detained, including where they are detained and for how long.
  • Establish a specialist team to handle claims by women with histories of sexual and gender-based violence and introduce independent expert advocates to support women.
  • Improve equalities training for Home Office staff handling claims and tribunal presenting officers.
  • Increase funding for asylum legal aid to ensure adequate specialist support for claimants with claims related to sexual orientation, gender identity, sexual and gender-based violence and religious belief.
  • Improve the timeliness of its actions once a notice of appeal has been served and when an outcome is known.
  • Address potential barriers to accessing legal advice in Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre, the main facility for detention of women.

Further Information

Image: UK Parliament/Tyler Allicock