Young Lives in Limbo

December 22, 2011 — Review

Written by Nicky Road

New research highlights the huge inconsistencies in assessing the age of separated young people seeking asylum and the damaging implications of getting it wrong.

Each year separated young people arrive without identity documents or birth certificates to verify their age. To quote one young person, ‘I come to this country and I want to tell my true identity. I had to use bad (false) passport because otherwise the authorities in Sudan would not let me go.’ This is the reality of how many young people flee their country and arrive in the UK. On arrival, the process of assessing their age is critical to the way the young person is subsequently treated. A decision as to whether they are considered an adult or child will determine the safeguarding, welfare and education provision they receive from local authorities. It will also determine how their asylum claims are processed.

The report, Young Lives in Limbo – the protection of age-disputed young people in Wales details both the legal framework and the practice of how separated young people seeking asylum in Wales are treated. It is a process which is both arbitrary and deeply stressful for the young person.

The research involved interviews with separated young people, social workers, lawyers and children’s advocates. Despite the adoption by the Welsh government of the Children’s Rights Convention as the basis for policy making for all children and young people (aged 0-25), separated young people are not treated with the care and respect that should be afforded to them.

Accurately assessing the age of young people is difficult. The lack of statutory guidance has made local authority assessments increasingly subject to challenge, and the lack of arbitration mechanisms to resolve age disputes has meant that disputes can end in litigation, which is both costly for local authorities and deeply stressful for young people whose lives remain uncertain and without safeguards.

This detailed and well documented report builds on previous evidence and calls for change, setting out a range of recommendations directed at both government and local authorities.

The Children’s Commissioner for Wales stated in 2010, ‘the issue of age assessments for unaccompanied asylum seeking children is still one that causes concern.’ A better approach is urgently needed and this report is a call for action.

Related links

Download a copy of the executive summary (pdf file, 228kb)

Download a copy of the full report (pdf file, 536kb)

Welsh Refugee Council

S. Clarke, Young Lives in Limbo: The protection of age-disputed young people in Wales (Welsh Refugee Council, August 2011)

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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