What is the Refugee Children’s Consortium?
The Refugee Children’s Consortium (RCC) was established during the passage of the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Bill through Parliament. The RCC began as, and remains, a lobbying group that brings together organisations with expertise in refugee and/or children’s issues. Together we contribute to the debate on how refugee and migrant children’s rights can best be protected in an increasingly hostile environment.
Membership of the RCC is open to registered charities and not for profit organisations and there are now 47 members and five organisations with observer status. The RCC has a collective voice across not just the refugee sector but the wider children’s sector, lending force and credibility to its work. Membership is multi-disciplinary, spanning policy, legal, advocacy and social welfare practitioners, and over time the RCC has established a continuity and depth of experience in dealing with government departments, especially the Home Office. Establishing joint positions also helps to ensure that our recommendation are strong and well considered and over time the Consortium has built up a reputation and credibility, strong parliamentary ties and respect across Westminster and Whitehall.
Looking back at RCC work-plans, many of the issues being addressed in the early 2000s are still on the agenda in 2017. We are still fighting to ensure that refugee, asylum-seeking and migrant children enjoy the same support and standard of living as other children – a task that has been made more difficult by the Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016.
However, there has also been plenty of progress in the years since the RCC began its work:
- The UK lifted its reservation to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2008 and, through section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, placed a statutory duty on the Home Office to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the exercise of its functions.
- Plans to forcibly return unaccompanied children to Vietnam, Afghanistan and Albania have all been reconsidered (though young people over the age of 18 are still returned).
- In 2010 the political commitment to ending child detention saw the number of children entering detention drop from 1,119 in 2009 to 71 in 2016. In 2014 the Department for Education published its first guidance specifically on unaccompanied children, refreshed in 2017 (although awaiting publication) with considerable input from the RCC.
- In 2015 the RCC contributed to the first ever local government guidance for social workers on age assessments.
- The need to assess what is in the best interests of the child now runs through Home Office guidance, even if there is far more to be done in terms of practice.
While the pace of change has sometimes been frustratingly slow, the constant engagement of the RCC as a strong and united voice for refugee and migrant children has contributed to gradual long-term improvements, and has prevented a retreat from hard-won victories that can come about with political change.
But there is far more to be done. We have seen considerable changes to the safety and security of migrants in the UK, and thousands of refugee and migrant children still do not receive the support and protection here that they so desperately need. The impact of removing immigration legal aid from scope has left many in legal limbo, children alone are still being granted temporary leave to remain in the UK, many families are still at risk of forced destitution, and children are still falling through the gaps. Today we face new challenges brought by children being moved around Europe through the Dublin III regulation and around the UK under the National Transfer Scheme. Hundreds still are not being recognised as victims of trafficking and/or are going missing. The Immigration Act 2016 contains provisions which may exclude migrant care-leavers from support – rendering them destitute, and there is still much work to be done on the implementation of the Act.
Today we are launching the RCC’s new website, which will hold all of the RCC’s briefings, statements and submissions and hopefully serve as a useful resource for those interested in helping this group of children and young people. While a strong voice advocating for this vulnerable group is likely to be needed for years to come, the growth in the size of the RCC over the years demonstrates the desire from organisations of all sizes to continue to search for political solutions, to hold government to account, and to do the best possible work to help children and young people secure status, safety and stability.
The RCC serves both as a means of information-sharing within the sector and as a vehicle for different organisations to work together towards a common aim. Collective positions are very strong politically and at a time when charities are more and more stretched, the RCC allows us to come together, truly more than the sum of our parts, to achieve more than we would be able to achieve individually.
For more information, or if you would like to join, please contact the RCC’s chair Kamena Dorling at kamena.dorling [at] coramclc.org.uk