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21 April 2023

Children’s commissioner demands data on child refugees from Suella Braverman

Rachel de Souza is calling for Home Office information on children arriving on small boats, and what happens to them when they arrive in Britain.

By Anoosh Chakelian

In a letter shared exclusively with the New Statesman, and first reported in an interview with the children’s commissioner in this week’s issue, Rachel de Souza has formally requested vital information about refugee children from the Home Office.

On 5 April De Souza wrote to the Home Secretary Suella Braverman for a second time with concerns about the Illegal Migration Bill. In it, she uses her statutory powers under the Children Act to demand details of who exactly the children crossing the Channel on small boats are, and what happens to them once they reach British shores.

De Souza is requesting “individual-level information on all unaccompanied children aged 17 years or younger seeking asylum in the UK, who have been accommodated by the Home Office in hotel accommodation for at least one night since July 2021”.

She is specifically asking the Home Office to release information about when these children arrived, their age, gender and country of origin. She also wants to know whether they are victims of trafficking or suspected victims of modern slavery, if they’ve been referred to children’s services and why, and what kind of support they’ve been offered during their time in Home Office accommodation.

[See also: The rise, fall and rise of Suella Braverman]

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In the letter, Braverman is asked to respond to the request by 9am 17 April, but she has not yet replied – though De Souza has met with Home Office officials to discuss her request.

“As children’s commissioner for England and on all reserved matters, it is my statutory duty under the Children Act 2004 to promote and protect the rights of all children,” she writes in the letter. “This duty includes a particular responsibility towards children living away from home, which extends to children arriving in the United Kingdom seeking asylum. I am clear that safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility, and I am committed to ensuring that every child is protected from harm.

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“This request falls under my statutory remit to investigate and explore the lived experiences of vulnerable children, particularly those under the care and supervision of the state. This information will help us to better understand the experience of children accommodated by the Home Office and how we can best support them.”

De Souza’s own mother was a refugee who came to Britain from a Bavarian orphanage at the age of seven in the early Fifties. In her interview with the New Statesman, she said the Illegal Migration Bill – which removes asylum rights from people migrating on small boats – would endanger children.

“My worry is it will make traffickers even bolder, because they won’t have to worry about social-worker interference, or the child being supported elsewhere,” she told me. “I am seriously concerned about it. You’re almost certainly going to be walking into the hands of criminal gangs because there is nowhere for you to go.”

Having visited the Home Office’s controversial asylum hotels, she warned that they are “not a place for children, particularly traumatised children”. She added: “As a compassionate, modern society, with a proud tradition of welcoming and supporting refugees, we should be looking after these children.”

[See also: The UK is less racist than the left – and the right – think]