Deported to warzones: Home Office admits sending back thousands of child refugees

© Darrin Zammit Lupi
Britain has returned more than 2,700 young asylum seekers to war-torn countries in the Middle East over the past nine years – double the number originally claimed by the government.

Although most of the young people were sent back to Afghanistan, hundreds were returned to Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria, Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said this week. The revised figures released by the Home Office reveal 60 teenagers have been deported to Iraq since 2014, the year Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) took control of large parts of the country.

The revelations come in response to questions from Labour MP Louise Haigh and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ). Brokenshire was forced to issue a correction to figures released by the Home Office last fall that underestimated the scale of the deportations by 250 percent.

The minister told Parliament in November that just 1,040 child refugees had been returned to the Middle East between 2007 and 2015.

Unaccompanied children who come to the UK are granted temporary leave to remain, which does not offer the same protections as refugee status, and is revoked when the minors turn 18. Though children can apply for asylum, the chances of getting it are just 17 percent, the TBIJ reports.

Louise Haigh told the bureau: “These shocking figures reveal the shameful reality behind our asylum system.”

“Children who flee countries ravaged by war in the most appalling of circumstances are granted safe haven and build a life here in the UK but at the age of 18 can be forced onto a charter flight and back to a dangerous country they have no links to and barely any memory of.”

The news comes as Prime Minister David Cameron is attacked by Labour’s refugee task force. Chair of the task force, Labour MP Yvette Cooper, is expected to say on Wednesday that Cameron’s refusal to address the refugee crisis sweeping Europe will play a decisive role in the upcoming referendum on EU membership.

She will argue that Cameron needs to reevaluate his strategy in handling the crisis if he wants Britons to vote to stay in the 28-member bloc, suggesting the border-free Schengen system needs to be dropped.

Though criticized for not going far enough by rights groups and campaigners, the government is taking some steps to adapt to the crisis. It has, for instance, temporarily halted removals to some of the worst hit countries in the Middle East. Though 57 children were sent back to Afghanistan in 2015, deportations to the country have currently been suspended on account of the security situation.

Brokenshire told the Commons last month the Home Office is negotiating with local authorities to accept more refugees under a dispersal scheme that would see asylum seekers moved from London and south east England to other parts of the UK. The announcement came in the wake of last month’s revelations by security contractor G4S that three-quarters of local authorities refuse to provide asylum seeker accommodation in their area.

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that Lynx House asylum accommodation in Cardiff is expected to partially close in order to undertake repairs to deal with poor conditions.