Asylum and Nick Clegg
Clegg promise on child detention
The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has assured asylum groups in Sheffield that the Government will stop detaining children, but added that he has failed to persuade his coalition partners to move on other aspects of asylum policy. He gave the guarantee at a meeting with representatives from various Sheffield groups that support or campaign for asylum seekers, including City of Sanctuary, ASSIST and South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG). On child detention Mr Clegg said civil servants were working on details such as possibly permitting overnight detention of families prior to removal, which he felt was a reasonable exception.
At the start of the meeting, Nick Clegg admitted that so far there had been little change in asylum policy, despite the Liberal Democrats' strong criticism of the Labour Government's policies in this area. "It's a coalition", he said. But as the discussion went on, it became clear that Mr Clegg sees this as unfinished business and will want to push an agenda of asylum reform as he sees asylum as an important human right on which the UK has enterred into international obligations.
After hearing concerns about the impact of asylum policy on individuals Mr Clegg said he would consider calling for a review of the whole system, and asked those present to draw up a blueprint for an "ideal asylum process". The Sheffield Hallam MP also listened to representations from a local Zimbabwean refugee about the dangers of lifting the moratorium on returns to Zimbabwe, saying he would urge Ministers to take into account such factors as the elections due in the spring, before making a final decision on the issue.
At the time of the General Election, Mr Clegg wrote to Sheffield asylum organisations assuring them of Lib Dem support for issues such as the right to work for asylum seekers and the creation of an independent agency to adjudicate on asylum applications - neither of which the Tories supported.
The Sheffield asylum organisations have now written to Mr Clegg with their ideas for reforming the asylum system, including advocating a new agency to make individual asylum decision. They drew attention to the Centre of Social Justice Report of 2008, in the introduction to which Iain Duncan Smith, now Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said: "the welcome to asylum-seekers offered today falls far short of our traditional standards - UK asylum policy is still driven by the thesis, clearly falsified, that we can encourage people to leave by being nasty."