An amendment to the UK Borders Bill will place a legal obligation on Britain's Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) "to keep children safe from harm."
The United Kingdom's Immigration Minister, Liam Byrne, believes that keeping the country safe is the most important factor in the new legislation, but he is staking out a position that officials must not forget the vulnerability of children who get caught up in the system.
<$adv0> "Working to keep children safe is not new to our agency," Mr. Byrne emphasized. "The steps we are announcing today ... are a big step forward and I pay tribute to campaigning organizations who have helped us get our policy right."
Byrne was referring to immigrant and children's interest groups who have complained that the practice of imprisoning children in detention centers is cruel.
The amendments to the bill are a sharp change in the government's former attitude toward immigrant children, as revealed in a leaked manual in 2005.
The manual advised officials that force could be used in restraining children if it could be argued that the "safety of the child or others would have been endangered had restraint not been used." It also sanctioned collecting migrant children from schools in order to detain them with their families.
"Our commitments in the UK Action Plan on Tackling Human Trafficking, and our consideration of the particular needs of unaccompanied children who claim asylum, demonstrate [the government's commitment]," Byrne said. "The Code of Practice will underpin this commitment and provide a robust and transparent basis for helping to keep children safe."
The Minister for the Department of Education and Skills, Beverly Hughes, said that protecting children was a governmental responsibility shared by all agencies.
"I very much welcome today's statement by Liam Byrne and the Border and Immigration Agency, and I am particularly pleased that the agency is seeking to place its responsibilities to keep children safe from harm on a statutory footing," Hughes said.
"I also welcome the Agency's commitment, in its framework of principles, to working in partnership with statutory safeguarding agencies and Government departments to ensure that every child's safety matters, regardless of their individual circumstances," she added.
The UK Borders Bill is proposed legislation designed to give immigration authorities more power in dealing with cases of asylum and illegal immigration. It will grant officials the ability to detain individuals who are the subject of arrest warrants and seize property.
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