21 Apr '16

Family Returns Procedure

New Family Returns Procedure

The new procedure is supposed to “treat families with children humanely and with compassion.” It is also meant to ensure that the UKBA fufills its duties under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 whereby the UKBA must safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the UK.

Families selected for it will be given opportunities to return voluntarily to their countries of origin through a series of meetings with UKBA officials starting with a ‘Family Returns Conference’ followed by a ‘Family Departures Meeting’. These meetings are intended to help families to leave the UK voluntarily as part of an initial ‘Assisted Returns’ stage of the procedure.

‘Required Return’ stage

Families failing to return voluntarily to their countries of origin after these meetings will be then given a time and date to collect tickets from the airport to return to their country of origin (called a ‘Required Return’ using self-check removal directions.)  Under this the family are given two weeks before they have to go to the airport.

‘Ensured Return’ stage

If they fail to do this then the UKBA will decide to arrest them and forcibly remove the family from the UK under the ‘Ensured Return’ stage of the process. Here they will detain a family either in their home or when reporting and take them directly to the airport. If there are delays in putting the family on a plane the UKBA are now allowed to hold the family in the ‘Pre-Departure Accommodation’ at Pease Pottage for up to one week.

The UKBA instructions are clear that almost all families will be given the option of going back to their country of origin voluntarily by self check in under the ‘Required Return’ stage before they decide to arrest a family.

Family Returns Panel

Before a family can be arrested the UKBA will consult a supposedely independent Family Returns Panel made up of senior social workers and child welfare professionals. The Panel will assess whether arresting the children and detaining them will adversely affect the welfare of the children.

The Families Panel is not really independent at all. The UKBA decides who sits on it, and all the information about a family considered by the panel is solely from the UKBA without any input from the family’s lawyer to ensure its accuracy or to challenge its conclusions. The panel cannot go against UKBA policy or change it and in the end the UKBA can simply ignore the decisions of the panel as it only has an advisory role.

Family Welfare Form

Another feature that the UKBA believe will ensure the welfare of children is at the forefront of decision making by immigration officials is the Family Welfare Form on which family welfare issues will be recorded as well as any observations about the family’s general behaviour and their reaction to the idea of voluntary return.

Caseowners will be expected to record if any family member shows ‘negative’ reactions to the idea of ‘voluntarily’ returning to their country of origin such as:

1. Becoming depressed or withdrawn;

2. Expressing anger and/or hostility;

3. Showing sudden changes in behaviour or mood;

4. Talking about wanting to die or feelings of hopelessness;

5. Making threats against self, other family members and/or UKBA staff.

We are pretty certain that there’ll be many reactions such as these from family members being told to return voluntarily to conflict zones!

The Family Welfare Form makes up a significant part of the submission to the Family Returns Panel if enforcement action is being considered. Only the UKBA will have sight of this before it goes to the Family Returns Panel, and once again the family and their lawyer are not able to correct inaccuracies.

We have had a number of families put onto the Families Return Procedure since March when it started. Ashira is the first child that we know of that has been detained.

We do know however that the UKBA have tried to detain other children. And we we know that many other families have also disappeared from their accommodation.

Dawn Raids

One family was told on a Friday lunchtime (when most lawyers are thinking of shutting for the weekend) that her lawyer had only 72 hours to lodge a legal challenge or the UKBA would detain the family at any time in the following 21 days. On the same day they had been moved by the UKBA into a new house.

Not trusting the UKBA, the family left their new house on Sunday evening. On the Tuesday morning, after the Monday deadline had passed, immigration officials raided two of  the Unity Women’s Project volunteers who had been supporting the family looking for them.

Cops in classrooms and at the lawyers?

We got in touch with the children’s schools to see if they could help with letters of support for the family and were told that UKBA officials had contacted the school to insist that the UKBA should be informed if the family came to the school at any time.

The same week the mum went to an appointment with her lawyer and discovered a social worker waiting to speak to her. Apparently the UKBA had reported potential child welfare issues. As a result, the police had contacted the lawyer and was told when her next appointment was.

Cynical use of child welfare legislation

We are appalled at this. Let us be clear, there are NO child welfare issues concerning this family. Everyone who has met the mum and her children are impressed by how happy the children are and how well they are coping with the problems the UKBA are throwing their way.

This is the cynical use of Child Welfare legislation by the UKBA to hound a single mother and her three children, driving them from their home and stopping the children from attending school.

Schools should be places of safety not somewhere where children are scared that they are going to be detained. People should be free to attend appointments with lawyers without fear they may be detained.

Child detention returns

The ‘Cedars’ “Pre-departure accommodation”, (the UKBA’s preferred name for the new family detention centre) at Pease Pottage, near Crawley, is due to open this week. It has space for nine families and a 2.3 metre high fence. It is being run as a partnership between G4S (notorious for, for example, the murder of Jimmy Mubenga last year) and children’s charity Barnado’s who are giving a veneer of respectability to the process.

Families are supposed to be detained there for a maximum of one week.

It is hard not to be cynical about the new process as we have heard the same things in the past – that “No one wants to detain children and it only happens as a last resort “, that “treating children with care and compassion is an absolute priority for the UK Border Agency”, that “children’s welfare was an important consideration before detaining a child”, that “children would only be detained once all attempts to persuade a family to return voluntarily had been exhausted”… (just some examples of things said in the past.)

It is difficult to believe that exactly the same people who justified locking children up for as long as 70 days or longer at Dungavel, Tinsley House and Yarls Wood can now be trusted to ensure that locking children up will only happen as a last resort…

After all it wasn’t that long ago that we were told it was impossible to do it any other way and that it was absolutely necessary to do it…

If any family have been asked to attend a Family Returns Conference we are very happy to talk to them about what will happen and arrange volunteers to go with them.