17 January 2012
ECPAT UK was shocked and saddened to learn that children who had been trafficked into the UK for exploitation were sent immediately back to France due to a secret ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that had been in place for at least 16 years.
The Landing in Dover report from Maggie Atkinson, the Children’s Commissioner for England & Wales, discovered that unaccompanied children arriving into Kent were returned to France if they did not apply for asylum straightaway. This was despite the fact that many of the children were often ill, hungry, tired and traumatised – a clear breach of the safeguarding measures imposed by the United Nations Rights of the Child legislation and government safeguarding guidance.
Of particular concern were the cases of seven Vietnamese children, trafficked into the UK in 2010 to be exploited in cannabis factories, who were sent back to France. According to the Guardian, Kent Social Services claim to have known nothing of these children.
As a result of the commissioner’s investigation, ECPAT UK is pleased to learn that this practice has been stopped with immediate effect by the new chief executive of the UK Border Agency (UKBA).
Landing in Dover identified several other unacceptable practices that take place when unaccompanied children arrive at the docks in Dover or through the Channel Tunnel (during its investigation in 2011), for instance:
- Despite legislation and government policy stating that children should be detained as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate time, children are often detained for several hours before local authority care is notified of their arrival, and are then subjected to lengthy interviews that have bearing on their asylum status
- Staff are given ‘considerable discretion’ to continue with interviews, even where children are claiming to be tired, ill or ask to see a doctor
- It is unclear whether children are asked if they wish to exercise their right to have a legal representative present at their initial examination interview and subsequent interviews – despite the fact these interviews can be relied upon by UKBA in its decision on asylum. Children are also in practice, often unable to have an independent Responsible Adult present
- Telephone interpreting is used at interviews with children and is not ‘fit for purpose’, according to the Children’s Commissioner
- Even in the absence of a legal representative or independent adult, children are required to sign their screening interview records, confirm its contents and confirm they have understood legal warnings and instructions – often records that children signed were not read back to them to check accuracy
ECPAT UK welcomes Atkinson’s many recommendations in light of the findings of this investigation, principally:
- Further training for staff to know when it is not appropriate to interview children
- Interviewing being postponed until the child has had time to recover and time to appoint a legal representative
- Ending the ‘excessive periods of detention’ for some unaccompanied children
- Not using telephone interpreting for interviews that will lead to asylum decisions
- Children being accompanied by a responsible adult when interviewed
Christine Beddoe, Director of ECPAT UK, said: “The UK is obliged under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to give children full enjoyment of their rights, to treat children with humanity and respect, and to let them have their voices heard. All decisions made about them must be with their ‘best interests’ in mind.
“ECPAT UK is pleased that UKBA in Kent has finally moved to ban the abhorrent practice of sending unaccompanied children who do not register a claim back to France and is now facing up to its responsibilities under UK and international legislation to safeguard and protect all children on its shores.
“We welcome the recommendations of Dr Maggie Atkinson, the Children’s Commissioner for England & Wales, and urge UKBA and Kent County Council to accept these changes swiftly in order to give the vulnerable and often traumatised children the protection that they require and are entitled to. What is imperative is that all ports and entries into the UK learn from these mistakes and incorporate these into current practice.
Additionally, ECPAT UK welcomes the Children’s Commissioner’s recognition of the need for a system of guardianship for child victims of trafficking and other unaccompanied children. Atkinson stated: “I will continue to advocate for the appointment of legal guardians for all children who arrive without anyone having parental responsibility for them. Many countries in Europe already appoint guardians in recognition that decision making in children’s best interests should at least be informed by someone in the role of the child’s parent.”
Christine Beddoe, Director, ECPAT UK
Tel: 07906 341 889 or 0207 233 9887
Information for editors:
- ECPAT UK is a leading UK children’s rights organisation that exists to end the exploitation of children. We focus on protecting children from both trafficking and exploitation in tourism. This is done by campaigning, providing training, and working with other NGOs and professionals from around the world. We also work directly with child victims of both sexual and labour exploitation by helping them recover and giving them a voice to speak out
Copyright © ECPAT UK 2015.
Charity number: 1104948. Company Ltd by Guarantee: 5061385.
4A Chillingworth Road, London N7 8QJ.
Tel: 020 7607 2136. Fax: 020 7700 5435. firstname.lastname@example.org.
ECPAT UK is the leading expert voice on child trafficking in the UK and we offer a comprehensive training programme focused on safeguarding young people from trafficking, modern slavery, and transnational abuse. To find out more visit our training page.
11 October 2016
A new report by the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) has again urged the United Kingdom to improve protection of…
1 October 2016
The Department for Education has enlisted ECPAT UK and the Refugee Council to train foster carers and support workers across England to improve the care of separated children…
ECPAT UK has launched a new e-learning course for all professionals who may come into contact with children, young people or adults who have been trafficked.
Designed in partnership with…
10 August 2016
ECPAT UK has welcomed the conviction of Dorset abuser, David Shepherd, on 13 charges of child sexual abuse in the Philippines.
The leading children’s rights…
12 July 2016
A new ECPAT UK expert paper has said that UK legislation is largely ineffective to protect children abroad from travelling UK sex offenders.
Despite the UK's strengthened…
For the second year running, two teams from internet hosting provider HEG completed the daunting Ben Nevis Challenge to raise thousands of pounds for ECPAT UK's work to tackle child exploitation and trafficking…