UNISON home
UNISONScotland www
Scotland's biggest public service union Join UNISON
Join UNISON
Click here
Home News About us Join Us Contacts Help Resources Learning Links UNISON UK

 

Independent Asylum Commission's Review of the UK Asylum System

UNISON Scotland's Response to the Independent Asylum Commission's Review of the UK Asylum System

May 2007

Executive Summary

  • UNISON Scotland is pleased to note the establishment of the Independent Asylum Commission and welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the review of the asylum system in the UK.

  • UNISON Scotland represents over 100,000 local government members in Scotland, more than 25,000 of whom work in social care, many of whom are at the front line of delivery of services to asylum seekers and their families.

  • UNISON Scotland believes that immigration enriches our society and we would like to see those families who have lived in this country for more than a year, be granted an amnesty and leave to remain.

  • UNISON Scotland's concerns arose from the treatment of children within the asylum system, particularly in relation to the removals process.

  • UNISON Scotland believes that these actions by the immigration services breach the human rights of all concerned and breach the rights of the children

  • UNISON Scotland is deeply concerned at the reservation which has been placed on the UNCRC by the UK government which, we believe, could lead to the UK government believing that it is not accountable for providing such protection.

  • UNISON Scotland is clear in its view that the children of failed asylum seekers should only be separated from their families if they are at risk of significant harm.

  • UNISON Scotland is very clear that our members will not collude with the deportation process. However, we take the view that UNISON members should, where appropriate provide a service to asylum seeker families in accordance with social work legislation and their professional codes of ethics.

  • UNISON Scotland has serious concerns about the treatment of asylum seekers who have been detained in the Dungavel detention centre in Lanarkshire, Scotland where our members working in local hospitals have raised concerns about the treatment of those who have been brought to hospital for medical care.

  • UNISON Scotland believes that the detention of children without due process is unacceptable and is a clear breach of their rights under UNCRC and domestic legislation.

  • UNISON Scotland is also very concerned about the decision making process in relation to asylum which should take account of the circumstances of all family members, particularly the children. We believe there is a need to introduce the principles of the Children (Scotland) Act into asylum proceedings in Scotland to assist with this.

  • UNISON Scotland is also very concerned about the issue of the children's safety and welfare in their country of origin and believes that more work needs to be done on the quality of information and assessments in countries to which children are being deported.

  • We are also concerned about unaccompanied asylum seeker children and what seems to be a policy to return them to their country of origin once they reach 18, again, we understand, without adequate checking or preparation.

  • UNISON Scotland welcomes the setting up of an independent inspectorate to monitor the quality of the decision making of the Immigration and Nationality Department and their removals policy.

Introduction

UNISON Scotland is pleased to note the establishment of the Independent Asylum Commission and welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the review of the asylum system in the UK.

UNISON Scotland represents over 100,000 local government members in Scotland, more than 25,000 of whom work in social care. Many of these members are at the front line of delivery of services to asylum seekers and their families and they are very unhappy at the way in which they are expected to deliver the legislation aimed at removing families of failed asylum seekers from Scotland.

UNISON Scotland has been concerned for some time about the practices of the immigration services in relation to the treatment of asylum seekers, particularly asylum seeker families. We have been particularly alarmed by the practices of removal by dawn raids and the detention of children and families. We are worried at the impact of these practices on the children of asylum seekers and we believe that it breaches the rights of these children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), as well as domestic legislation, both UK and Scottish, which states that the welfare of the child must be paramount. We are also concerned at the effect on other children, whether or not asylum seekers, of seeing their friends "disappeared" overnight by the state.

UNISON Scotland believes that immigration enriches our society and we would like to see those families who have lived in this country for more than a year, be granted an amnesty and leave to remain. We are aware that many failed asylum seekers have been in Scotland for many years. The children and their families are well integrated into our communities and schools, and many children have been born in this country. It is our policy to campaign for an amnesty for such families.

Evidence

The treatment of vulnerable groups in the asylum process

UNISON Scotland's concerns arose from the treatment of children within the asylum system, especially in relation to the removals process. The experiences of families and children have been widely reported in the media. UNISON has also had contact with professionals and others working in this field who have heard directly from the families of their experiences. Families have been taken out of their homes in their night clothes; the adults and older children have been removed in handcuffs and often quite young children have, on many occasions been separated from their parents during the journey to the detention centres. We are particularly aware of one instance where a mother was separated from her child during a long journey to a detention centre in England, leading to considerable distress on both their parts.

As stated above UNISON Scotland believes that these actions by the immigration services breach the human rights of all concerned and breach the rights of the children which are set down by domestic legislation, in Scotland, the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, and by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the UK is a signatory. In particular it breaches their right under domestic law and the UNCRC to have their "best interests a primary consideration in all actions"; their right to express a view and to have that view taken into account in all matters affecting them and their right to protection from abuse and neglect.

For this reason, UNISON Scotland is deeply concerned at the reservation which has been placed on the UNCRC by the UK government. We believe that this further disadvantages already very vulnerable children. It has implications for all asylum seeker children, including unaccompanied asylum seeker children who are a particularly vulnerable group. The UNCRC requires the State to provide special protection for such children who are deprived of his/her own family. There is a risk that in placing a reservation on the UNCRC, the UK government will see themselves as not having to be accountable for providing such protection. The new Home Office guidance on this matter which is out for consultation would appear to emphasise this risk.

We believe that there is a need to recognise that many asylum seeker children have already had very damaging experiences and may already be severely scarred both psychologically and possibly physically. They may well need additional services to help them cope with their experiences, and certainly do not need the additional trauma of dawn raids and detention.

UNISON Scotland is clear in its view that the children of failed asylum seekers should only be separated from their families if they are at risk of significant harm. Separating these children from their parents even for short periods of time, for example as part of the removals or detention process, can result in further and lifelong emotional damage.

We were also very concerned to learn that immigration officials involved in the removals process were not subject to enhanced disclosure checks, a requirement for all other professionals working with children. We welcome the introduction of this requirement and we understand that most have now been disclosure checked. However, this is another example of the Home Office's failure to recognise the needs and rights of asylum seeker children.


UNISON Scotland is very clear that asylum seeker children are "children in need" as defined by the Children (Scotland) Act and are therefore entitled to all the services and consideration that should apply to such children. These children's previous experiences often make them particularly vulnerable. However, this not recognised by immigration and asylum legislation and practices of the immigration service.

UNISON Scotland has held discussions with the Scottish Executive in relation to the proposed protocol with the Home Office to address concerns about the removal process and in particular dawn raids. UNISON Scotland is very clear that our members will not collude with the deportation process. It is not their role to put a human face on inhumane practice.

However, we take the view that UNISON members should, where appropriate provide a service to asylum seeker families in accordance with social work legislation and their professional codes of ethics. UNISON Scotland's Social Work Issues Group (SWIG), along with the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), has produced a guide for members who are working with asylum seeker children, child's welfare paramount? which is attached to this submission.

The guide provides a framework for ethical practice for UNISON and BASW members who work with the children of asylum seekers, and a resource pack for workers.

UNISON has expressed some support for the Scottish Executive's proposals to address the needs of the children of failed asylum seekers, by having an assessment of their needs prior to any action to deport. This would involve a lead professional being identified to co-ordinate an assessment to which all the professionals involved with the child would contribute, including school and health staff. We understand that whilst this may not influence the decision to deport, it could influence the nature and timing of the deportation, for example to allow a child to sit key exams; or to complete a course of medical treatment. Unfortunately, this has not yet been put into practice and we have now learned that these measures will only apply in the "legacy" cases. Meantime, children are still being detained and deported without such an assessment, with all the damage this may cause.

UNISON Scotland's Social Work Issues Group is now considering a similar booklet for staff who work with adult asylum seekers, particularly those working in the field of mental health. We are aware that many adult asylum seekers are also very vulnerable, both because of their previous experiences and because of their experiences of the asylum process.

The detention of asylum seekers

UNISON Scotland has serious concerns about the treatment of asylum seekers who have been detained in the Dungavel detention centre in Lanarkshire, Scotland. UNISON members working in local hospitals have raised concerns about the treatment of those who have been brought for medical care and described a situation where a woman asylum seeker was handcuffed to a bed when going to surgery. UNISON Scotland has written to NHS Lanarkshire and the Home Office to express the view that asylum seekers should have the same rights to dignity in medical treatment as the rest of the population and to express concerns that healthcare staff are forced to work within such practices. We believe that such practices seriously compromise the codes of practice of healthcare professionals.

UNISON Scotland believes that the detention of children without due process is unacceptable and is a clear breach of their rights under UNCRC and domestic legislation. It is our view that the locking up of asylum seeker families in this way has no place in a civilised society and should end.

It is UNISON Scotland policy to campaign:

  • for the closure of Dungavel and other detention centres in the UK, instead of current Government plans to expand the facilities;
  • to seek a more humane way to deal with asylum seekers which keeps families together and recognises their needs, including the education of their children in mainstream schools;
  • to work to ensure an end to enforced detention of asylum seekers and their families which breaches their human rights;
  • to attempt to build a greater understanding of the plight of refugees and asylum seekers and to highlight the fact that the vast majority are genuine cases deserving full support. 

The asylum determination and appeals process

UNISON Scotland is also very concerned about the decision making process in relation to asylum. The focus of the asylum application and decisions about leave to remain and deportation are based exclusively on the circumstances of the applicant. In the case of families, this can often be one of the parents and it is their circumstances only that will be considered. In these cases we believe that there is a need to take account of the circumstances of all family members, particularly the children, and to have regard to their welfare in decisions about asylum and deportation.

We understand that some of our legal colleagues have begun to bring the welfare of the children more to the fore in bringing legal challenges against deportation and have, for example, asked the court to require a report on the children's circumstances as part of judicial reviews. We believe there is a need to clearly introduce the principles of the Children (Scotland) Act into asylum proceedings in Scotland, in order to ensure that the welfare of the child is fully considered when asylum decisions are made.

We welcome the recent agreement reached between the Scottish Executive and the Home Office to include an assessment of the needs of all family members in respect of the "legacy cases" in Scotland and would like to see this approach extended to all asylum seeker families. However, we will want to monitor very carefully how this will work in practice, to ensure that welfare assessments are fully taken into account.

UNISON Scotland is also very concerned about the issue of the children's safety and welfare in their country of origin, and how this can be assured. We are unconvinced about the basis on which the Home Office decides that countries are safe to return to and again, there seems to be no attempt to consider specifically the needs and welfare of the children. We believe that more work needs to be done on the quality of information and assessments in countries children are being deported to. We believe that more use should be made of International Social Work services both for information about the situation families will be returning to and support for families once there.

We are also concerned about unaccompanied asylum seeker children and what seems to be a policy to return them to their country of origin once they reach 18, again, we understand, without adequate checking or preparation.


UNISON Scotland welcomes the setting up of an independent inspectorate to monitor the quality of the decision making of the Immigration and Nationality Department and their removals policy. We believe that there should be greater independent scrutiny of the decision making processes and more accountability.

Top of page

For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
UNISONScotland
UNISON House
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX

Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

Top of page

Submissions index | Home