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Monday, 10 June, 2002, 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK
Asylum school plans face opposition
Yarl's Wood asylum centre, near Bedford
The Yarl's Wood asylum centre's fire prompted worries
Ministers' plans to educate the children of asylum seekers in segregated centres face growing opposition in Parliament, a Labour MP has warned.

A senior trade union leader on Monday said teaching children in asylum accommodation centres instead of normal schools went against efforts for social inclusion.

I do not think we should be segregating any children

Neil Gerrard
Labour MP

Labour MP Neil Gerrard is spearheading Commons opposition to the plans, while the Conservatives say they will only support the idea if the asylum process is vastly speeded up.

Home Secretary David Blunkett is sticking by the plans and is set to try to face down his critics when the Asylum and Immigration Bill is debated by MPs on Tuesday.

Rehabilitation worries

Mr Gerrard said 30 MPs were backing his attempt to change the bill so the proposals would be ditched.

More support for his amendment would come as MPs returned to Westminster on Monday after a two-week break, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"I do not think we should be segregating any children," he said. "These are children first and asylum seekers second."

Oliver Letwin, shadow home secretary
Letwin wants asylum seekers in centres for 10 weeks at most
The Walthamstow MP said education was about encouraging children to mix socially as well as teaching them academic standards.

"If you segregate children, particularly children who may have been traumatised, you are actually making it much more difficult to rehabilitate them," Mr Gerrard added.

The plans are proving one of the most controversial parts of the immigration bill, which starts its third reading debate in the House of Commons this week.

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin said it was "not reasonable" for the plans to go ahead if asylum children had to stay in the accommodation centres for six months.

'No backing down'

Under two changes to the bill proposed by the Tories, 10 weeks would be the "absolute upper limit" for asylum seekers to stay in the centres and there would be a limit on the size of the centres.

Newspaper reports on Sunday suggested Mr Blunkett was having a rethink of the asylum schooling plans.

He prompted anger earlier this year when he talked of the risk that asylum seekers could "swamp" local schools and doctors' surgeries.

Asylum seekers' children
The Home Office says asylum children will be well taught

But the Home Office says Mr Blunkett will take on criticisms of the plans in Parliament.

On Sunday, a spokeswoman said: "Mr Blunkett will consider their concerns but will not be backing down on the provision."

She said the home secretary had already made clear he did not want to place children in accommodation centres indefinitely.

Home Office officials argue there is no reason children will be disadvantaged by being taught in the centres.

Indeed, they say the centres will give asylum seekers' children more support in a more controlled environment.

'Ready to integrate'

Education watchdog Ofsted will inspect the centres and ensure they provide the same standards offered at schools, say officials.

A spokeswoman said: "Children who enter schools once they leave accommodation centres will be well-prepared to integrate and take up the opportunities available to them."

She said the length of a child's stay in the centre depended on how long it took to decide their asylum claim.

"The current target is two months to decide the case, and four months to hear the appeal," she added.

'Breaking key principle'

There has been a chorus of protest from within the education system and from charities at the government plans.

Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, on Monday urged MPs to "make their voices heard on the issue".

The government "cannot preach a socially inclusive policy and argue that children of asylum seekers should be educated in some sort of detention camps - the two don't mix", said Mr Morris.

The return of the immigration bill to the Commons will also see ministers try to get new powers to deport asylum seekers before they have the chance to appeal.

Key stories



See also:

25 Apr 02 | Education
25 Apr 02 | Education
25 Apr 02 | Politics
13 Jan 02 | UK
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