The government is considering returning unaccompanied children, whose asylum claims have failed, to Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. But what can be learnt from existing initiatives in countries such as the Netherlands and Spain?
It could be that the UK government is seeking to emulate the lead set by other European governments which are pioneering dubious new approaches to the return of unaccompanied child asylum seekers. The Dutch government, for instance, has created its own ‘reception facility’ for Angolan unaccompanied children in Luanda, while the Spanish government has announced the construction of two ‘reception centres’ in Moroccan territory, with the regional governments of Catalunya and the Canary Islands announcing similar plans.
Over 5,000 unaccompanied children applied for asylum in the Netherlands during the Angolan civil war and the Dutch courts ruled that they could not be returned as there were no safe orphanages in Angola to accommodate them. But, since then, the Dutch justice ministry has financed the modernisation and expansion of the Mulemba orphanage in Luanda – which means that Angolan children are returned to what is considered the Dutch ‘safe zone’. Belgium and Switzerland are apparently considering funding a number of beds in the Mulemba orphanage. Does the Home Office perhaps intend to follow this lead?
Research by the Dutch academic Joris van Wijk suggests that, as of May 2005, only one Angolan child deported from the Netherlands actually took shelter at the Mulemba orphanage. Nevertheless, unaccompanied children from Angola, applying for asylum in the Netherlands, are now being denied protection because of the orphanage’s existence. Meanwhile, the Spanish proposal to set up reception centres for unaccompanied children in Morocco has been criticised by UNICEF which warns that once such centres become operational, Moroccan children who arrive unaccompanied in Spain will be repatriated on a large scale, without taking care to safeguard their personal interests.