17 May 2010

GOVERNMENT does not have accurate information on newcomer children living in Northern Ireland according to the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY), Patricia Lewsley.

The Commissioner said the lack of accurate and accessible information on asylum-seeking families, unaccompanied children or child refugees makes it very difficult to provide them with the support they need.

"Greater visibility needs to be brought to the experiences of these children, who can be more vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and poor education," said Ms Lewsley.

"No single body is responsible for gathering information on newcomer children in Northern Ireland; yet unofficial figures suggest the number is increasing. I am concerned at the approach the Government has taken, and although I welcome initiatives in schools which help encourage integration, more still needs to be done to address their needs.

"I also welcome the commitment given in the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition Agreement on ending the detention of asylum-seeking and refugee children, which brings the United Kingdom one step closer to respecting and upholding children rights and recognises that we should treat children as children first and foremost, no matter what their immigration status.

"However, I am concerned that there is no mention of families in the statement, leaving wide open the possibility that families could be split up, damaging children's welfare and wellbeing. I will continue to work hard with the Government to reach a common understanding about practical approaches around this."

The Commissioner said that there are several actions the Government could do to provide better support to newcomer children in Northern Ireland.

"Making sure children and young people are safe should be one of the Government's highest priorities.

"Revising the current approach, making sure the UK Border Agency safeguards the welfare of asylum-seeking children; addressing barriers facing newcomer children in education; and gathering accurate data would be a welcome start.

"I would also encourage the Government here and in Westminster to take into consideration the recommendations from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to strengthen its efforts to provide these children and young people with the services they need.

"This month, as part of my ongoing 'Make it Right' campaign, children and young people have been working with me to highlight some of these challenges."

To find out more about NICCY's Make it Right campaign or to get involved email uncrc@niccy.org, or call 028 90311616.

ENDS

MEDIA ENQUIRIES:

For more information please contact Sharon Whittaker, Communication Officer at NICCY on sharon@niccy.org or 028 9031 1616.

NOTES TO EDITORS:

- NICCY's statutory powers are limited by the excepted status of immigration. NICCY is precluded from dealing with matters regarding the immigration status of children and young people living in Northern Ireland. However, NICCY's remit does include public bodies in Northern Ireland which are responsible for the delivery of services to migrant children.

- NICCY wants the UK Border Agency to carry out its functions in a way that promotes and safeguards the welfare of children.

- NICCY wants education policy and practice to continue to address barriers to newcomer children's school education.

- NICCY wants accurate, disaggregated data to be recorded and published regarding newcomer children in Northern Ireland.

- If you would like to receive a copy of this month's policy briefing on newcomer children please contact NICCY on 028 9031 1616.