A family in Bolton, whose campaign to stay in Britain has won strong local support, is one of the first to face new powers to separate asylum-seeking children from their parents.
Powers introduced under last year’s Asylum Act, which allow the Home Office to cut off support to families with children whose asylum claims have been rejected, are now coming into effect. The result is that, as parents are driven into homelessness, their children will be taken from them and placed in the care of social services. A family in Bolton – whose campaign to stay in Britain has been strongly supported by the local newspaper and thousands of local people – is one of the first to face such a grim fate. Ngiedi Lusukumu, a mother of six children, the youngest of whom is seven months old, has received a letter from the Home Office informing her that she will be evicted from her accommodation on 5 August 2005. The withdrawal of support, states the letter, ‘may lead to you being separated from your children if, as a consequence of you being left destitute, you are unable to look after them and Bolton Social Services is obliged to provide them with accommodation and care’.
Ngiedi Lusukumu said, with her daughter Flores translating, ‘I don’t want us to be split up. We just want to stick together as a family. This is a really worrying situation and we need people to help us because we have not got any other option. We cannot go back to Congo because it is really dangerous for us there.’
The Schools Against Deportation campaign, which is supporting the family, said: ‘The Home Office’s letter amounts to a threat to a woman and her six children that, unless she leaves the country, she will be made homeless and separated from her children, which is clearly immoral and probably unlawful. What possible justification can there be for taking these children away from their mother, especially as the people of Bolton have made it clear that they want the family to remain in Britain?’
The family is also being supported by teachers at the secondary school attended by some of the children. One of the teachers, Jason Travis, said: ‘Separating children from their parents and placing them in care, for no other reason than their parents’ immigration status, can never be in their best interests. It is a measure which is contrary to the spirit of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that the best interests of children should be paramount. Local authority social services departments are already over-stretched with cases of children who are genuinely in need of protection without adding cases of families whose only problem is state-imposed destitution.’
Ngiedi is currently being accommodated in Great Lever, Bolton, by the National Asylum Support Service. Her youngest child Benedict is seven months old, Exhauce is two years old, Sarah is four, Destin is six, Daniel is fifteen and Flores eighteen. Over two thousand people in Bolton and elsewhere have signed a petition calling for the family to stay in Britain. The petition has also been supported by the Bolton Evening News.
Under Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, currently being piloted in Greater Manchester, families can be left entirely destitute, save for the obligations of local authorities under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 to provide accommodation for any child in need within their area – which entails separating the children from their parents.