UK to forcibly deport Afghan asylum children

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Ministers were warned yesterday that teenagers could be stranded in a war-zone after it emerged Britain was preparing to forcibly return Afghan children whose asylum claims had been rejected.

Under the joint Home Office plans with the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway, Britain would start repatriating unaccompanied 16 and 17 year-olds from next year.

The four governments have been give £845,000 by the European Union to launch the returns programme.

The UK Border Agency said no decisions had been taken, and stressed that removals of minors would occur only if "their families can be located or appropriate support and care arrangements are in place".

But Judith Dennis, advocacy officer at the Refugee Council said it would be "indefensible" to send youngsters back to "an extremely dangerous environment".

She said the plans appeared to be motivated by deterring young Afghans from heading to Britain and "completely ignores the reasons they leave their homes and make hugely traumatic journeys in the first place".

The European Council on Refugees and Exiles claimed family tracing was almost impossible, and children risked return to "orphanages in a war zone".

Last year, 547 unaccompanied Afghan children applied for refuge in Britain, more than any other nationality. Most applications are refused, but they are given discretionary leave to remain. Currently no under-18s are forced to return.

The Foreign Office continues to warn against travel to the country.