The Children's Commissioner for England, Sir Albert Aynsley-Green, head of the publicly-funded but non-departmental body tasked with ensuring the UK's compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, has today produced a report claiming the UK is cruel to asylum-seeking children.
He has found instances of children being pulled from their beds in the middle of the night, searched by strangers, being told they have five minutes to pack all their worldly possessions and taken away in urine and vomit-smelling vans, leaving behind pets and sometimes essential medicines such as asthma inhalators.
Clearly this is cruel - very cruel, and it's utterly wrong that any UK authority should be acting like this.
But the cruelty starts much sooner than "deportation night". It starts when the asylum-seeking family is first granted access to the United Kingdom. They are put in a process of application and appeal and stays of execution and more appeals which lasts years. No-one arriving in the UK who manages to utter the words, "I claim asylum," will be here for less than two years - during which they will be fed, housed and their children educated - all at public expense.
And the claim to asylum is probably doomed to failure. A fundamental tenet of the 1951 UN Convention on Asylum is that the asylum-seeker must proceed DIRECTLY to a safe country, ie, must stop and claim asylum at the first safe place they come to. There are no dangerous countries adjacent to the UK; any asylum-seeker must perforce pass though or over several safe countries to get here.
So to give the asylum-seeker any prospect at all of being granted asylum is false hope, and therefore cruel. It would be better to turn asylum-seekers around at their port of entry and return them to the most recently visited safe country, which in turn may pass them back along the line to the first safe place they reached.
The false hope is made even crueler by the fact that many well-meaning but deluded individuals will lobby in the UK for the asylum-seeker to be allowed to stay. The asylum-seeker will of course immediately sink deep roots into the country, starting by fervently supporting a football team and putting their children into the local school. The local church is also a priority as it gives access to the local bleeding-heart liberals and men and women of the cloth who are difficult for the authorities to ignore.
All this root-sinking does work from time to time, and as a result the other asylum-seekers are encouraged to fight harder, to believe they will never be deported, and to encourage others of their compatriots to come here and help them in their fight.
Indeed, the mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, has blamed Britain's asylum and benefits system for "imposing" thousands of illegal migrants on her town. She points out that the asylum seeker is given accommodation and receives £31 to £40 a week according to their case, when the annual salary of the average Eritrean is around £136. She is understandably angry that her town has to fork out £12m a year to deal with the hoards of would-be immigrants who congregate at the port.
A blanket refusal to provide asylum would be a better and even kinder option.
One could also consider setting up transit camps to accept refused asylum-seekers, in amenable nations. For example a camp in South Africa could accept asylum-seekers from Zimbabwe until such time as return to Zimbabwe was safe. Another such camp in the Afpak region would be a good idea. Where it was deemed that the country of origin was not intrinsically unsafe a travel voucher could be issued on arrival at the camp. This would avoid antagonising our near neighbours by returning migrants to them.
Children's Commissioner's report
Text of the UN Convention
Mayor of Calais blames UK authorities