The hostile environment appears very much in operation as documents show the Home Office focusing on exclusions
Home Office officials have expressed concern that the welfare of children and families who have crossed the Channel to the UK is being “compromised” by an intent to prosecute individuals for immigration offences, internal emails and documents reveal.
At least one senior safeguarding official has resigned over what they described as an example of the hostile environment still being used to target vulnerable new arrivals.
One email from a safeguarding expert, whose brief was to inform the Home Office on the welfare needs of families due to be forcibly deported, questioned the use of restraint and “physical intervention” on children.
Correspondence sent to the home secretary, Priti Patel, also reveals how an official stepped down because they did not want to “compromise the safety and wellbeing of children and families to facilitate the proliferation of an enforcement agenda”.
The former safeguarding expert told the Observer that a change in the Home Office’s approach to families and children they were preparing to deport was reflected in the language of some officials.
Requesting anonymity, they said: “The Home Office began undermining our welfare advice, and we started seeing quite crude assumptions made about the credibility of individuals such as asylum seekers trying to scrounge off the state or being called illegals.
“I had to bite my lip. It was basic, crude and quite brutal. Children were being put to one side to focus on immigration issues.”
Another email was seen by the Observer also questioned if some families who crossed the Channel in small boats were being “immediately turned around and sent back to France under an obscure article”.
Earlier this year reports alleged the Home Office had launched an initiative to return migrants swiftly to France before their asylum claims were properly considered.
Details of cases of concern are outlined in other emails including a family where the children were seemingly separated from parents who were subsequently restrained on the way to a deportation flight.
Another highlighted case involves an Iranian teenager who was caring for her young brother and whom the Home Office twice attempted to deport before an intervention by safeguarding officials ensured they were eventually allowed to remain in the UK.
Dan Sohege, director of human rights advocacy group Stand for All and a refugee law specialist, said: “It’s a very disturbing direction of travel the Home Office is going in. They are looking at exclusionary measures rather than supporting those, particularly children, who absolutely need support.”
The disclosures follow attacks by Priti Patel on lawyers who she claims frustrate attempts to deport failed asylum seekers.
Safeguarding officials, according to the emails, were also concerned that similar arguments have been raised in relation to deporting families with references to “high numbers of cases where further submissions and judicial reviews present barriers to removal”. However, the officials say they are legitimate legal challenges made under asylum law, and that one reference to “high numbers” was actually only 17 judicial review applications in a year.
Other concerns relate to claims of information on sensitive cases being withheld from a body called the Independent Family Returns Panel (IFRP), which provides advice on the welfare plans for the forced deportation of families with children.
Among the information allegedly held back from the IFRP were details on potential trafficking victims, while one message claims that the Home Office blocked a trip to Italy for the panel to evaluate the condition of reception facilities before leaving the EU. “We remain concerned about the reported situation for returnees [in Italy],” said one email.
Other areas of disquiet include the holding of child refugees who have crossed the Channel in the “inappropriate accommodation” of a Kent holding facility with some detained for more than 18 hours when they arrive. Last month, it emerged one 15-year-old boy was held for over 66 hours.