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Young migrants, crime and detention: more needs to be done

Press release issued: 30 November 2017

The Government needs to do more to support children and young people who arrive in the UK as migrants, before they commit a crime and face deportation.

This is a key finding from a new report looking at how and why young migrants, refugees and asylum seekers end up detained in immigration removal centres having spent a significant part of their childhood in the UK and feel British.

Researcher Dan Godshaw, from the University of Bristol, spent six months interviewing people in Brook House immigration removal centre near Gatwick to understand their background and what could have been done differently to prevent them from being detained.

He found they were likely to have experienced trauma as children and to have been in the care system. Inadequate support and inappropriate care placements left them vulnerable, with local authorities sometimes failing to regularise immigration status and citizenship.

A lack of guidance, as well as use of police intervention to deal with disruptive behaviour, often led to early convictions. Crimes that led to deportation orders were often relatively minor and inextricably tied to growing up as marginalised young people in Britain.

The report also found that young arrivers feel deeply connected to the UK, and being detained triggers intense shock. Detention causes people who had previously felt British to begin to feel foreign, excluded from society and the identity they had grown up with.

Mr Godshaw, whose research was carried out in partnership with the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, said: "Young arrivers to the UK come from a wide variety of backgrounds and situations. Many are fleeing persecution or conflict; many have suffered the breakdown of their families through a range of circumstances.

"Many, by the time they are adults, have known no other home and are, to all intents and purposes, British. All are people asking for our help. They should find protection, fairness and clarity in our immigration system and in statutory support systems. Instead, far too many people are failed by the systems at many different points."

The report calls for young arrivers to be classed as a potentially vulnerable group rather than being 'demonised' as foreign national prisoners and automatic deportation orders being issued.

It also suggests that when people arrive in the UK as children, settled immigration status should be granted swiftly before they're automatically put on a path to citizenship.

Mr Godshaw added: "Young arrivers lament their differential treatment to British peers, which some feel is linked to institutional racism.

"Most of my respondents had British accents because they'd been educated in the UK - they had family and friend networks that were British.

"Their identity was British but they were being deported to a country they knew nothing about."

The report echoes many of David Lammy MP's findings in his September review of the criminal justice system.

Mr Godshaw's report calls for indefinite immigration detention to be brought to an end and replaced with a 28-day limit and community-based alternatives.

Findings also show that recent Home Office policies to prevent vulnerable people being detained are not being implemented.

'Don't dump me in a foreign land: Immigration detention and young arrivers' by Dan Godshaw.

Further information

A policy briefing [PDF] to accompany Dan's research is available.

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