SHAFAQNA – If the United Kingdom has long appointed itself the grand custodian of human dignity and morality, in that it has abided by a lenient migration policy towards war refugees – offering both asylum and refuge to the tens of thousands, who, over the years have landed on its shores, such status might soon change as reports have confirmed that Britain is sending vulnerable youths back to their war-torn homelands – without so much as the courtesy of a hearing.
British officials have already admitted that an estimated 2,748 young people, barely of legal age, were forcibly deported to the likes of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. It is important to note that all of the teenagers in question were unaccompanied children when they arrived to the UK – de facto orphans.
By any definitions, those youths remain absolutely vulnerable – foreigners in their homeland as most never kept in touch with family or friends back in their country, and instead embraced their new life in Britain.
Robert Anderson, a child psychologist who has worked with refugees from Africa, and the Middle East explained in an interview how traumatic it would be for young adults to be sent back, when they were made to believe they were finally out of harm’s way, in a place which guaranteed that their rights would be respected. “It took those children tremendous efforts to assimilate to their new environment …most of them suffered psychological trauma, and/or physical violence, and so to be asking now that they return is rather cruel. Most have a life here: school, friends, ambitions, future plans … Sending them back to the heat of war is a grave violation of their human rights. I would personally argue it constitutes a war crime.”
In an interview to the press James Brokenshire, the minister for immigration said that over the past nine years 2,748 young people – many of whom had spent formative years in the UK, forging friendships and going to school – had been returned to the likes of Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria. The bulk – some 2,018 – have concerned Afghanistan, but an investigation has found that 60 young people have also been deported to Iraq since 2014, the year so-called Islamic State began its brutal regime in swathes of the country.
News of such activities prompted the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Labour MP Louise Haigh, to raise serious concerns about what happens to child asylum seekers when they turn 18 at a time when Britain is being urged to take responsibility for thousands of orphaned child refugees from Syria.
If a child in fact becomes an adult before the law when he or she turns 18, there is a duty of care we cannot ignore as far as war refugees are concerned. It would be disgraceful and shameful to assume that the life of an individual seizes to matter beyond 18 years of age. Those children remain vulnerable, and as such they should be offered legal protection – notwithstanding the fact that we are potentially feeding those kids to the liked of the Taliban of Daesh in the Middle East. How are those kids supposed to fend for themselves in countries where violence and war are the norms,” stressed Anderson.
Sarah Bennett, a security analyst based in Germany noted how Britain’s policy is endangering those most vulnerable segments of the population, without really addressing any real governmental issues. She said: “The rhetoric in Downing Street has been that officials need to curb migration and prevent any additional drain or strain on the benefit system …this is the message which the Prime Minister has floated. Now, sending a few thousands youths to war torn countries will help little by way of saving money … If anything those teens would have contributed to Britain’s advancement by pursuing their education, and becoming active members of society. There is no real logic behind this move … only some rather disturbing questions as to why kids!”
Brokenshire who had to apologise to the Commons for publishing “misleading data” – he previously provided MPs with inaccurate numbers in November that understated the scale of deportations by 250%, gave little by way of explanation as to why his office had chosen to expatriate teens.
The error was spotted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Labour frontbencher Haigh noted on the matter: “These shocking figures reveal the shameful reality behind our asylum system.
“Children who flee countries ravaged by war in the most appalling of circumstances are granted safe haven and build a life here in the UK, but at the age of 18 can be forced onto a charter flight and back to a dangerous country they have no links to and barely any memory of. With many more vulnerable young children due to arrive in the UK over the next five years the Government needs to answer serious questions and provide a cast-iron guarantee that vulnerable young people will not sent back to war zones.”
Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron warned: “It is a sad-state of affairs that the Government is stripping the protective blanket of safety we have offered these children on their 18th birthday. Many of them will have integrated into their communities and will be looking forward to becoming fully-fledged adult members of our society. Deporting them to countries, particularly those who we wouldn’t send our own children to in a million years, makes little sense. We do need a sustainable, long-term plan for these children.”
How Britain treats those who arrived as children seeking asylum from war zones and repressive regimes has long been a concern among rights campaigners.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has been investigating the issue for two years. Last year, it explored the cases of several Afghan teenagers as they battled deportation orders – those boys suffered brutal violence by the hands of the Taliban. The latest Home Office figures show that in 2015, 57 former children were sent back to Afghanistan.
The latest figures also show 657 former child refugees have been returned to Iraq since 2007, including 22 last year, and 38 in 2014 when Daesh, aka ISIL, began to take a grip on the region. The thought of Western officials standing by a policy which essentially condemns young people to the horrors of war is disturbing.
While the Foreign and Commonwealth office advises against “all but essential travel” to half of Iraq, and against any travel to the north-westerly areas, it still advocate for teenagers to be returned once they turn 18.
Speaking on the asylum process for children a Home Office spokesman said: “All applications to remain in the UK are considered on their individual merits, including an applicant’s age, the length of time they have spent in the UK, their ability to reintegrate and any compelling or compassionate circumstances.”
By Catherine Shakdam for the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies