Opinion: Proposals penalise asylum seekers

Just occasionally, politicians say the right thing, such as when education secretary Alan Johnson declared: "The mark of a decent society is how it treats the most vulnerable."

He was talking about improving the lives of children in care after a consultation brought some great ideas, most of which will be rejected because of cost. "As proxy parents, we have a special responsibility," added Johnson. "Children in care should not be deprived of the kind of emotional, practical and financial support every child deserves."

Agreed, but given how such deprivation is Government policy, perhaps Johnson could find hope in its plans to deal with the 15,000 lone child asylum seekers who have arrived in the UK since 2000.

The Government already assumes they are criminals; now it wants to treat them like dirt - check out the proposals under 'consultation documents' at www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk/lawandpolicy/.

This envisages cheapskate internal exile, denial of their human right to family life and enforced deportation for most on reaching 18, presumably with any overstayers forced into destitution. Inviting comments by 31 May, the consultation even floats the idea of paying 16-year-olds to leave.

Refugees and migrants, from the Irish to the Jews, have often sought to cluster in and around London for mutual support, then naturally dispersed as wealth and work allowed. Clustering is a helpful, practical and cost-effective way to assist the state, reducing the complexity of its dealings with migrants, from welfare support to language classes and legal procedures.

With enough funding for local authorities and charities, clustering allows experience and skills to develop on all sides, from families willing to foster new arrivals to youth support. The failed dispersal policy preferred by this Government could have been designed to prompt prejudice and hate crimes by dumping asylum seekers on sink estates among the tattoo and bull terrier brigade. Charities are strongly implicated in all this, because very few protected their independence and integrity by refusing state cash to assist in dispersal. Will it be any different for kids?

Minister for children Beverley Hughes recently said: "Above all, it's about responding to the needs of children in care in a sufficiently human way."

Facing dispersal, deportation and destitution, I wonder if children seeking asylum, alone and so vulnerable, think this regime is sufficiently human?

- Nick Cater is a consultant, speaker and writer. catercharity@yahoo.co.uk.

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