THE Home Office has admitted for the first time that dawn raids to forcibly remove failed asylum seekers can have "traumatising effects" on parents and children, raising hopes of an end to the controversial policy.
The admission follows growing anger about such raids north of the Border, which have drawn complaints from churches, human rights groups and even the Scottish Executive.
A review last year by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND), the Home Office agency that implements asylum policy, received a flood of complaints and submissions from pressure groups and others about its removal raids.
Many of the raids have taken place in Glasgow, which has the largest population of asylum-seekers of any city outside London.
Some believe the Home Office could now be poised to soften its stance.
In a written answer to a question in the House of Commons, Liam Byrne, the immigration minister, appeared to sound a conciliatory note on removal operations.
He said: "IND is aware of the possible traumatising effect of early-morning visits when they seek to remove the families of failed asylum seekers.
"Every effort is made to conduct an immigration enforcement visit with the least disruption to the children and at the best time of day to pick up a family as an entire unit, eg before any children depart for school or parents depart for work."
Sally Daghlian, the chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council (SRC), said the minister's comments could signal a softening in policy. "I think it is very interesting there is recognition there, and we hope the government is looking at alternatives," she said.
The SRC was one of many bodies to respond to the review of dawn raids, which Ms Daghlian said she believed could lead to a change. "I am very confident that the people responding will be setting out the damaging effect of the current system and I think it is impossible for the government to ignore protests from every corner," she said. "The government cannot hide from that forever."
Kathleen Marshall, Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People, has also criticised the Home Office over dawn raids, and she will repeat her objections in a meeting with IND officials later this month.
"Anything that moves away from early-morning removals and towards a policy that respects basic human dignity is a good thing," her spokesman said yesterday.
The Executive confirmed that Scottish ministers continued to press the Home Office over dawn raids and the implementation of removal policy. "Our primary focus is on trying to make the process better for the children," a spokeswoman said.
She added they were close to an agreement with Home Office officials that would see the Executive appoint a "lead professional", such as a teacher or social worker, to oversee removal operations and represent the interests of children involved.
Last night, a Home Office spokeswoman said the policy on removals was "being kept under review".
But she added that, even if ministers decided to alter the nature of the operations that are launched to remove failed asylum claimants, there was no question of an end to forced removals.
"We respect the right to protest, but we will not allow protests to stop the removal of those who are here illegally," she said.
CONCERN AT TACTICS
DAWN raids targeting failed asylum-seekers earmarked for removal from Britain have caused widespread concern in Scotland, but Scottish ministers have been largely powerless to act.
According to unofficial estimates, there are 10,500 asylum seekers in Glasgow - the largest concentration outside London - with 2,000 a year scheduled to come for the next three years.
Recent dawn raids have attracted demonstrations and controversy. In October, Cem Coban, 36, a Kurdish asylum-seeker, threatened to jump from the balcony of his 20th-floor flat in Glasgow after immigration officials arrived to remove the family. Mr Coban, his wife, their son, 14, and daughter, three, were eventually deported.