By Isabel Ringrose
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Asylum-seeking children at high risk of self harm

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The Tories are committed to making refugees as unwelcome as possible in 2022.
Issue 2786
Young refugees from Syria

Young refugees from Syria gather and play at a clinic. (Photo: DFID)

The Tories are committed to making refugees as unwelcome as possible in 2022.

Children who arrive in Britain alone to seek asylum are at risk of self-harm and suicide, ­according to 25 child and migrant rights organisations.

The risk is “exacerbated by Home Office failures to decide the ­children’s asylum claims”.

Children are waiting longer than adults for a decision on their claim. Those who received a decision last year were waiting on average 550 days, compared with 449 days for adults.

At least 11 children who came to Britain committed suicide, many awaiting a decision on their claim.

The backlog in children’s asylum cases existed before the pandemic but was made worse when Home Office interviews stopped in March 2020.

Meanwhile suicidal asylum ­seekers were subject to force by guards who were allowed to remain on duty despite being “effectively uncertified” in the safe use of restraint techniques.

Internal documents logging conditions inside Brook House at Gatwick Airport found the Home Office deployed custody staff in March 2020 whose ­training had expired, giving them a “dispensation”.

This was while it pushed a ­fast-track programme to deport hundreds of people who cross the Channel.

Many detainees are believed to have been survivors of torture and trafficking.

Officers used force to prevent self-harm on 62 occasions from July to December. One torture survivor who attempted suicide said, “I thought at least if I kill myself, they’ll be able to learn a lesson—they’ll listen, and they wouldn’t treat other people the way they treated us.”

Claims have also been made against the Home Office that officials regularly redirect those stranded in the Channel to French emergency services after they make calls in British waters.

The consequence of this saw some 27 people lose their lives on 24 November after repeated distress calls were made to both countries’ coastguards.

Relatives of two of the men lost at sea have started a legal process calling for an independent public inquiry. Utopia 56, a refugee charity in France, has complained to prosecutors.

But the Home Office has been defeated in the court of appeal after four asylum seekers had prison sentences overturned for driving small boats across the Channel.

Three of the men who appealed had their convictions quashed and a fourth’s is pending as the Crown Prosecution Service looks for a retrial. The men were convicted for assisting unlawful immigration after being filmed driving dinghies. The Tories’ Nationality and Borders bill will make this a crime.

Seven similar cases are due to be heard in January.

Home secretary Priti Patel has already made it clear she’ll stop refugees from entering Britain. Anti-racists have to resist the attacks.

Stand Up To Racism’s demonstrations in London and Glasgow on 19 March and Cardiff on 20 March are an important focus.

Just 1 in 4 Afghan refugees in permanent homes

About 12,000 Afghan refugees have started 2022 in hotels, as the government claims there are not enough permanent homes available.

Of the 16,500 people airlifted from Afghanistan since August last year only 4,000 have moved into a home or are in the process of being moved.

By the end of September, councils in Yorkshire and the Humber had settled 213 Afghans, compared with just 24 across all London councils.

London council officials, hosting at least 4,000 refugees in hotels, described the situation as “chaos”.

And there are concerns about the unsuitability of hotels to accommodate the large number of children. Children start school and risk being uprooted across the country.

Housing grants were made available for new arrivals, but Afghans who arrived after 31 August aren’t eligible.

Those in hotels are not able to work because they don’t have permanent addresses.

Poverty hits black children hardest

More than half of black children in Britain live in poverty and are twice as likely to grow up poor compared to white children.

Over the last ten years the number of black children in poor households more than doubled.

Across different ethnicities, Bangladeshi children were found to be the poorest with 61 percent living in a poor household.

Children in families of Pakistani origin were at 55 percent and black African or Caribbean or black British at 53 percent.

Meanwhile 26 percent of white children were in poverty. The 2.9 million white children living in poverty are the largest ethnic cohort—comprising 68 percent of all children in poverty.

Black children are the next biggest group with more than 400,000 living in poverty, comprising 10 percent of child poverty.

Among some ethnicities, children are more likely to be living in poverty now than a decade ago.

In 2010-11 50 percent of children of Pakistani ethnicity were living in poor households.

For black children it rose 9 percent and for white children, 2 percent.

Overall in 2019-20, 4.3 million children—defined as a person under 16 or aged 16 to 19 and in full-time education—were living in poverty households.

This accounts for 31 percent of Britain’s children, compared to 27 percent in 2010-11.

The rate of poverty faced by all children is shocking. But the figures also underline the Tories lie when they say institutional racism does not exist

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