Health experts have condemned a migration law that could allow the detention of children illegally arriving in the UK, saying it could cause “unimaginable levels of harm and trauma” to them.
In a striking letter, a coalition of doctors and leading medical experts have advised that the Illegal Migration Bill risks PTSD, depression and suicidal behaviour among young people who may be detained under the new law.
The bill is currently being debated in parliament and, if passed, also holds the power to remove unaccompanied children.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak previously justified this, arguing children couldn’t be exempted, as otherwise a “pull factor” would be created for those considering the highly dangerous journey.
Professor Andrew Rowland, a consultant paediatrician, told Sky News the impact could be long-term, impacting both the mental and physical health of up to 15,000 children in three years, assuming the bill is passed.
Children ‘deeply traumatised’
The Refugee Council, for this reason, is asking the government to withdraw its plans for the new legislation.
Its chief executive, Enver Solomon, told Sky News: “Well, the government believes that if you lock children up, it will act as a deterrence. [That] it will send a message to people not to come to the UK, to children not to come to the UK seeking safety.
“But we know that just doesn’t hold true.
“They often arrive with scars of violence with bruises and physical injuries. We know they’re deeply traumatised.
“The evidence is really very clear that if you place these children in detention, it causes them further harm, further trauma, further psychological damage that will… damage their future development into adulthood.”
Click to subscribe to the Sky News Daily wherever you get your podcasts
‘The exploitation of children… cannot continue’
The Home Office believes the bill – in its entirety – is justified.
In a statement, a spokesperson said: “It is vital we send a clear message that the exploitation of children, used by traffickers and ferried across the Channel, cannot continue.
“That is why families and children who come to the UK illegally will not be exempt from detention and removal under the Illegal Migration Bill.”
The bill gives the power to remove an unaccompanied child under 18 from the UK, but this would only be “exercised in very limited circumstances” like reuniting a minor with their parent or removing someone to their safe home country, the statement added.
‘Up to 500’ missing after migrant boat sunk off Greek coast
Large group of refugees ‘left on the street’ in Westminster for two nights
‘The idea that I could have been locked up is terrifying’
Ali Ghaderi was a teenager when he arrived in London as a refugee from Iran.
His own migration journey involved walking – and swimming – from Iran to Greece. An experience, he says, he will never forget.
“I was just a teenager when I was forced to leave my home in fear for my life and came to the UK for safety,” Mr Ghaderi said.
“Arriving in a completely new country at such a young age was incredibly frightening. The idea that I could have been locked up is terrifying, and not knowing for how long, unthinkable.
“I had already been through so much as a child – I hate to think of the impact this would have had on me.”
The letter, co-ordinated by the campaign coalition Together With Refugees and signed by the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Psychiatry and the Faculty of Public Health, comes at the start of Refugee Week.
It is addressed to Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Health Secretary Steve Barclay.