Friday, March 29, 2013

Crackdown on 'education tourists' to target illegal immigrant children as Swedish PM slams Cameron's attempts to curb UK's soft touch image

Children of illegal immigrants would be banned from schools under plans drawn up for ministers to curb the impact of ‘education tourists’.

The idea was put forward by officials told to find ways to limit migrants’ access to benefits, housing, and the NHS but has been blocked by ministers.

But David Cameron’s pledge to end the global perception of Britain being a ‘soft touch’ have been slammed as ‘unfortunate’ by Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.

Mr Cameron used a major speech on immigration this week to say the government would make it harder for new arrivals to Britain to claim out-of-work benefits, jump the queue for social housing or get free treatment on the NHS.  But it has emerged officials have begun examining how to limit access to free education for children who are in the country illegally.

It is estimated that there could be 120,000 children in the UK without legal immigration status.  One plan would require headteachers to check the immigration status of pupils before admitting them to lessons.

The idea has been put forward in a series of emails sent by officials advising the inter-ministerial group on migrants' access to benefits and public services, The Guardian reported.

The group includes schools minister David Laws and immigration minister Mark Harper.

A proposal to ban illegal immigrant children from schools was suggested, but there are warnings it could contravene the UN convention on the rights of the child. Mr Laws is said to consider the idea a ‘red line’.

One email sent by a civil servant on Monday said: ‘Barring children, whatever their migrant status, from compulsory education has pretty much been ruled out by ministers and at the moment is off the table for cross-government discussions.

‘The question now is whether, if not to enforce a ban, it would nevertheless be helpful to carry out migrant status checks as part of school admissions.’

Another email suggested ‘strategies could probably be employed to deal with “education tourists”, in much the same [way] as “health tourists” are managed’.

The plan was revealed by Labour MP John McDonnell who accused minister of being ‘diverted to policy stunts prepared for prime ministerial statements and speeches’ instead of focussing on practical ways to tackle immigration.

He told the Commons that ‘ministerial attention has recently been focused on discussions in the inter-ministerial group on barring migrant children from compulsory education’.

He said the Department for Education then intervened and the children’s rights adviser said: ‘If we were to withdraw the right of education from any children in the UK, regardless of their status, we would be hugely criticised for it by the UN.

‘With the periodic review report due to be submitted in January 2014, this would be very controversial.’

Home Secretary Theresa May played down the idea of banning children outright.  She said: ‘We have been looking at public services across the board in relation to what we describe as the pull factors.

‘We have focused on housing, health and the benefits system. We do not propose not having the provision of education for individual children.’

But she rejected the claim that the government’s policy changes were about publicity stunts.  ‘We have been sorting out a chaotic immigration system and immigration policy introduced by the previous Government that led to net migration in this country reaching hundreds of thousands a year.

‘We aim to bring it down to tens of thousands. We have already seen net migration cut by a third. That is not a publicity stunt; it is a real benefit and a policy that the people of this country want to see.’

The move to consider targeting illegal immigrant children was condemned by Lesley Gannon, head of policy at the National Association of Headteachers.

She said:  ‘You can't hold children responsible for the behaviours of their parents, it's simply not fair.

‘All of our codes of practice around admissions, behaviour and exclusions have always emphasised that you deal with the child and not the parents in terms of their access to education and their treatment within the school. We wouldn't want to see anything jeopardise that.

‘It's also really worrying to start to drag schools into politics in this way. Yes, we are public servants, part of the state, but once you put that process in place, I'd suggest you're encouraging parents who are worried about their immigration status to avoid putting their children into school, to avoid detection. That puts the educational rights of that child at risk.’

Mr Cameron’s speech on Monday focussed on benefits and housing, but was criticised for lacking detail and targeting relatively small numbers of people.

He promised that new EU migrants will be stripped of jobless benefits after six months, but critics said existing rules meant this effectively already happened.

The PM said net migration needs to ‘come down radically’ after getting ‘badly out of control’ under Labour.

He also unveiled a crackdown on so-called health tourism, with hospitals ordered to start charging foreign visitors. Those from outside the EU will need health insurance before being granted a visa.

There will be a major shake-up of council housing rules designed to keep immigrant families off waiting lists for at least two years and possibly as many as five.

But the speech was criticised by the Swedish Prime Minister.  Mr Reinfeldt  said: ‘I think it's unfortunate. I believe in a Europe that should be open, where we have free movement, and where we instead ask ourselves how people who come here can get work more easily.’


Australia: Conservative coalition to fix asylum seeker problem

The opposition says it will use the full resources of the navy and customs fleets to stem the flood of asylum seeker boats.  Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said Australia had a significant fleet of navy and customs vessels and a coalition government would be deploying those assets necessary to get the job done.

But he would not explain just how that would be done.  "I am not about to give the people smugglers a heads-up about those sorts of operational matters," Mr Morrison told ABC radio on Thursday.

"What they can be assured of is they can expect an Abbott-led coalition government to put an end to this madness and we will deploy the assets that are necessary to get the job done and the resolve that is needed to get the job done."

The opposition says 600 asylum seeker boats have reached Australian waters under Labor since 2007, with a surge in recent weeks. More than 3300 asylum seekers have arrived by boat this year, more than double the arrivals in the same period in 2012.

Mr Morrison said the coalition had been very clear about its policy of turning back asylum seeker boats where it is safe to do so.

Indonesia opposes the controversial plan and Labor and the defence force say people smugglers and asylum seekers will respond by sabotaging vessels to ensure they can't be returned, endangering passengers and defence personnel.

Mr Morrison said he was confident the Australian Defence Force, and particularly the navy, were quite capable of carrying out the policies of the government of the day.

"Our officers and our naval personnel are trained in these areas and we know that they have the capacity to get the job done, just like they do over in the (Persian) Gulf where they intercepted about 1000 vessels and many of those vessels had armed weapons pointing at them when they did so," he said.


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