The plight of unaccompanied asylum seeking children

May 1, 2014 — Review

Written by Nicky Road

Nicky Road examines three recent reports documenting the treatment of young asylum seekers in the UK.

The Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s (OCC) recently published report, What’s going to happen tomorrow? Unaccompanied children refused the right to asylum, investigates what happens to unaccompanied children after they reach the age of 18. Up until they are 17 ½ years old they will have been in the care of the local authority, pending a decision on their asylum status. Yet in 2012, for example, around three quarters of unaccompanied children claiming asylum had their claims refused outright or were granted limited leave to remain until age 17½. However, if they have been refused asylum their situation post 18 becomes very perilous.

The number of unaccompanied children arriving in the UK and being looked after by local authorities has been declining in recent years, but the number of over 18s who have lost their right to remain and have therefore had all support withdrawn has been increasing. Between 2010 and 2012, for example, 4,240 unaccompanied children claimed asylum whilst only 585 former unaccompanied children departed or were removed (13.8 per cent of the number of arrivals over the same period). This means that, if about a quarter were granted some kind of leave to remain, the majority remain in the UK as young adults with an undetermined or unlawful status.

Drawing from the views and experiences of these vulnerable young people, local authority staff, lawyers dealing with their asylum applications and organisations supporting the young people, the report’s recommendations cover two main policy areas. The first sets out to address the question: ‘What needs to be done to ensure young people seeking asylum can properly put their case before the decision maker?’ The recommendations arising from this examination and contained in the report, if implemented, would hopefully mean that fewer children would become Appeal Rights Exhausted (ARE) young adults.

The second policy area looks at those young people who have spent their formative years in the UK and seeks to answer: ‘What more could be done to ensure the safety and wellbeing of, and a successful transition into adulthood for, those found not to need the UK’s permanent protection.’ This is a more difficult area to address as their experience of growing up in the UK may well have changed their outlook and expectations very significantly from the experience of growing up in their own country.They also have to deal with the impact of not being granted asylum and therefore, if they remain in the UK, all support can be withdrawn. Some local authorities do continue to provide support for children who have been in their protection for some time, though they are no longer funded by the Home Office for this. However ARE young people who have ‘leaving care services’ withdrawn or who voluntarily disengage with the authority are no longer able to lawfully access employment or benefits and are forced into destitution, illegal working and, potentially, crime. The recommendations arising from an examination of this area are drawn from evidence and build on best practice.

This report shines the spotlight on unaccompanied young people who remain in the UK but whose needs remain largely hidden arising from their lack of status as a result of their failed asylum application.

Prior to the publication of this (OCC) report, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (HMIP) reported on the outcome of two unannounced inspections of short-term holding facilities in December 2013. One was at Stansted Airport and the other at Luton Airport, both run by the private security contractor, Tascor, on behalf of the Border Force. What is relevant here is the number of children held in the three months prior to these inspections: seventeen accompanied and five unaccompanied children at Stansted and nine accompanied and two unaccompanied children at Luton. The Stansted Inspection Report states that only nine out of their twenty-nine recommendations had been fully implemented since their last inspection. They go on:

We were not assured that all members of the Home Office children and young person’s team had received recent safeguarding training or had undergone relevant background checks. Awareness of the national referral mechanism was poor. The Home Office did not interview children in an age- appropriate environment. The family room was merely a partitioned section of the main holding room.

Asylum seeking children at whatever age, accompanied by their families but particularly those unaccompanied, remain very vulnerable and the need both to implement existing policy and develop new systems of support is urgent as these reports show.

RELATED LINKS

Read ‘What’s going to happen tomorrow?” Unaccompanied children refused asylum’ here

Read ’Report on an unannounced inspection of the short-term holding facility at Stansted Airport’ here

Read ‘Report on an unannounced inspection of the short-term holding facility at Luton Airport’ here

Office of the Children’s Commissioner

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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