The Children’s Law Centre has worked alongside the Children’s Rights Alliance England, Together Scotland and the Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group to produce a series of thematic briefings to inform the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
What is the Universal Periodic Review?
Approximately every four years, the UK’s overall human rights progress is assessed under the UPR.
The UPR is a process where the countries that are members of the UN Human Rights Council review the human rights progress of UN member states. The UPR is based on the UN Charter and all the UN human rights treaties that have been ratified the country under review.
The UK will have its next UPR review in November 2022. Prior to the review, the UK Government submit a full report outlining steps it has taken to progress human rights since the its review. Other countries review this information and can make recommendations on where further improvements could be made. The aim of the UPR is to improve the overall human rights situation in each country and share best practice around the globe.
Civil society organisations can present their own reports as part of the process and CLC has worked closely alongside other children’s rights organisations in England, Scotland and Wales to draft the following briefings to assist in informing the review, in the context of the state of children’s rights in the UK:
Speaking out on ‘World Refugee Day’ the Children’s Law Centre (CLC) and South Tyrone Empowerment Programme (STEP) have said the treatment of asylum-seeking children and their families in ‘contingency accommodation’ settings is “cruel, unnecessary and avoidable”.
The two organisations had recently published a report highlighting the lived circumstances of asylum-seeking children and their families being accommodated in ‘contingency accommodation’.
The report, jointly submitted upon request to the Council of Europe Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, highlights a number of potential rights breaches. The report was also endorsed by four other organisations – Conway Education Centre, Participation and Practice of Rights (PPR), Barnardo’s Northern Ireland and South Belfast Sure Start.
Fergal McFerran, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at CLC, said: “We are deeply concerned about the reports coming from residents who are living in ‘contingency accommodation’ settings and the community and voluntary sector organisations providing emergency support to them. The experiences of vulnerable children in particular are very worrying. We believe there are significant children’s rights breaches occurring and urgent, joined-up action is required to prevent these from continuing.
“We have been working alongside a number of organisations to call for action. This must include duty bearers working together urgently to address any rights breaches, and listening to those affected, namely residents, to co-ordinate an effective response.
“Beyond that, the ‘hostile environment’ created by the UK Home Office must end. It is driving refugees and asylum seekers into destitution and ill health, rather than allowing them to contribute positively to society. However, in the meantime, duty bearers cannot hide behind the Home Office and must continue to uphold key rights.”
Bernadette McAliskey, CEO at STEP, added: “The treatment of residents living in ‘contingency accommodation’ settings is cruel, unnecessary and avoidable. Asylum seeking children have rights that must be upheld. Yet, it is deeply worrying to hear reports of new mothers who cannot get access to basic goods and equipment to care for their babies, or families who have had their access to recreational activities severely curtailed. It is also clear that access to education has been severely limited, with no effective overarching strategy evident to address this.
“We will continue to work alongside other organisations to raise these issues and give a voice to asylum-seeking children and their families. We need to see urgent and co-ordinated action to address the failures and uphold the rights of those affected.”
Speaking ahead of the 2021 Children’s Law Centre Annual Lecture, UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons Especially in Women and Children, Professor Siobhán Mullally has raised her fears that the Nationality and Borders Bill will heighten the risk of trafficking and re-trafficking for child refugees.
Professor Mullally’s lecture will be delivered on Thursday 2nd December at 3:30pm and is titled ‘Responding to Child Trafficking: Rights Vs Rhetoric’. The lecture comes only a week after at least 27 people, including children, drowned crossing the English Channel. Following the tragedy, the UK Home Office was widely criticised for its hostile environment towards refugees and asylum seekers.
“There is little doubt that the risk of trafficking or re-trafficking will increase as a result of this Bill, particularly in relation to children. It will make it more difficult to identify victims or potential victims of trafficking, with changes to the ‘reasonable grounds threshold’ particularly concerning. It will also weaken access to services that meet the complex individual needs of victims of trafficking, and potentially treat child refugees as criminals.
“There is an established international rights framework set up to protect refugees and prevent trafficking. Such serious departure from this framework, coupled with the current rhetoric towards refugees, will have devastating consequences for people, including very vulnerable and traumatised children. Rather than address the refugee crisis and tackle trafficking, the Nationality and Borders Bill is a gift to people smugglers.”
Paddy Kelly, Director at the Children’s Law Centre added: “We are very pleased that Professor Mullally agreed to deliver our 2021 Annual Lecture. It comes at a critical moment where much of the good work carried out in this jurisdiction to tackle the causes and effects of child trafficking could be undone. It also highlights the importance of a strong rights framework, including domestic implementation of those rights in the protection of children. Just last week we witnessed the terrible impact of the failure to protect the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. Until we recommit to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, we will continue to fail child refugees.”
Children’s Law Centre Immigration solicitors have offered their condolences in response to the tragic loss of life in the English Channel. The solicitors have highlighted the lack of safe, legal routes as a key factor putting refugees at risk. They have also warned that the situation will worsen as a result of the Nationality and Borders Bill, and current rhetoric painting refugees as criminals.
Barbara Muldoon, Immigration Solicitor at the Children’s Law Centre said: “We would, first and foremost, like to offer our sincere condolences to those who have lost loved ones in this tragedy. Probably every single person on that boat had someone who was waiting to hear that they had crossed safely. I can’t imagine the grief they currently feel.
“It is deeply troubling to encounter a loss of life on this scale. The lives of vulnerable, innocent people who were desperate for a safer life, including a number of young children.
“At the Children’s Law Centre, we represent the majority of unaccompanied asylum seeking children in this jurisdiction, in their application for asylum. Almost every young person has recounted the horror of small boat crossings at some stage of their journey. The dark, the fear, the cold and the desperate hope. It’s difficult for many to understand quite how desperate that is, but it is the reality they face.
“We owe it to these people to look at why a tragedy like this happens, and we can’t hide from the fact that this loss of life was preventable. Immigration practitioners have made it clear for a long time that this is the reality forced upon refugees due to the lack of safe and legal routes to asylum. Separated and unaccompanied asylum seeking children in particular have no other option due to the ‘blanket prohibition’.
“We also need to face up to the reality that the Nationality and Borders Bill, alongside the current UK Government rhetoric towards refugees and asylum seekers is not going to prevent this. In fact, the vast majority of practitioners agree that things will get worse by further criminalising refugees and weakening safeguarding measures for child refugees. Clause 40 of the Nationality and Borders Bill would even have made it a criminal offence to intervene and attempt to save these drowning people, including women and children.
“We need to collectively denounce the dangerous rhetoric around refugees and face up to the reality that there is no ‘migrant crisis’ in the UK. There is no ‘influx of migrants’. Those coming to the UK are seeking asylum. They have a legal right to do so under the 1951 Refugee Convention. We must re-commit to international obligations and ensure that we protect these people, including young vulnerable children, from exploitation, from the clutches of traffickers and from perilous journeys.”
A briefing note on the impact of the Nationality and Borders Bill on children, anti-trafficking and devolution can be found here.
A young refugee, who arrived in Belfast as an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child, has written an open letter to the Lord Mayor of Belfast. The young person was assisted in their claim for asylum by specialist immigration practitioners at the Children’s Law Centre. The letter details the young person’s love for the city and how they have settled since arriving. It was be read at Belfast City Council’s October full council meeting.
Titled ‘My Perspective on Belfast’ the letter outlines how the now young adult feels “safe” in the city among the “friendly and sociable” people. It demonstrates the incredible resilience and positivity of a young person who arrived alone and scared, and how they’ve adapted to life as a new citizen of Belfast.
The open letter comes as controversial immigration and asylum changes are progressing through Westminster. The Nationality and Borders Bill, which has been widely criticised by immigration practitioners, will have devastating consequences for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Solicitors at the Children’s Law Centre have raised significant concerns that it will put them at increased risk of trafficking and will prevent them from accessing the quick, specialist services they need during a traumatic time.
Speaking ahead of the council meeting, Immigration Solicitor Maria McCloskey said: “The Children’s Law Centre represents the vast majority of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in this jurisdiction. We witness the impact of the trauma these children have endured and the vulnerable position they are in, with 40% of our clients recognised as potential victims of trafficking. To see how settled one of those young people has now become, and how positive they are about their new home in Belfast, is heart-warming. I’m so pleased to have been able to help them.
“However, we can’t hide from the fact that if the Nationality and Borders Bill was in place, 96% of the asylum claims made by the separated or unaccompanied asylum-seeking children we represent, would have been considered inadmissible. This means they would not have been entitled to the full protection of the Refugee convention of 1951. The government would, first, have tried to remove them to another country. Had they been unable to remove them, they would have granted them short term permission to remain, without access to any benefits or help with housing, leaving them potentially homeless and destitute in the future. The reality is that these are vulnerable children and changes to the asylum process on this scale are going to put them in harm’s way. It also undermines positive devolved efforts to tackle trafficking in recent years.
“Not to mention the dangerous rhetoric around refugees coming from the Home Office, the Bill also criminalises people who are legally seeking asylum. Refugees are not criminals just because they seek asylum. We are talking about people like you and I who have lost their home through war, fear or persecution and have nowhere to turn. Children, alone, trying to reunite with far off family members, or in the grips of modern slavery.
“This letter shows the reality of who we, as legal practitioners, support in our work. It is an example of the difference we can make by ensuring safe arrival, quick action and the opportunity to live a life without fear. An example of what will be lost if the worst reaches of the Nationality and Borders Bill are not curtailed.”