The government must abandon any plans to detain and deport children under controversial new migration laws, MPs have warned.
The Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) said any potential harm to youngsters caught up in the asylum system must outweigh potential damage to the government’s policy agenda.
Under the Illegal Migration Bill, which is back in the Lords on Wednesday, people who come to the UK illegally through a safe country will not be allowed to stay.
Instead, they will be detained and removed, either to their home country or a safe third country such as Rwanda.
Concerns expressed by the WEC follow warnings last week from a coalition of leading medical organisations.
They warned that child migrants who were detained could be at risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, clinical depression and suicidal behaviour.
The Home Office said it has amended the bill so that an “unaccompanied child under 18 could only be removed in very limited circumstances”.
It added that if a removal decision was made, detention would be for the “shortest possible time”.
In its report, the WEC is also recommending that the government sets out its plan for “mitigating risks of harm to vulnerable adults in detention”.
Ministers should collect and publish data on the protected characteristics of detained asylum seekers, it said.
Increased risks under proposed reforms
Committee chairwoman Caroline Nokes, a Conservative MP, commented: “We were disturbed by the Home Office’s inadequate management of risks of harm to asylum seekers with protected characteristics, including women, LGBT people, children and disabled people.
“Alarmingly, these risks will increase under the government’s recent and planned reforms.”
She added: “One of our biggest concerns is the treatment of children within the asylum system.
“Any intention to detain child asylum seekers under the Illegal Migration Bill and forcibly remove them to Rwanda must be abandoned.
“The risk of harm to children outweighs any perceived damage to the effectiveness of the government’s policy agenda.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Through the Illegal Migration Bill, we will stop the boats by detaining those who come to the UK illegally and swiftly returning them to a safe third country or their home country.
“It is only right that we protect the most vulnerable by not creating incentives for criminal gangs to target specific groups.
“We have amended the bill to make clear that an unaccompanied child under 18 can only be removed in very limited circumstances.
“Where a removal decision is made, detention will be for the shortest possible time with necessary support provisions in place.”