Bring migrant children’s “best interests to the fore”, govt told

Immigration concerns are too often given priority over the rights of unaccompanied migrant children, a new report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) shows.

The report calls for a change in emphasis to put the best interests of such children at the heart of the often complex and stressful asylum and immigration processes affecting them.

In 2012 around 1,200 unaccompanied migrant children sought asylum in the UK, and around 2,150 unaccompanied migrant children were being cared for by local authorities.

The Committee urges the government to overcome the ‘culture of disbelief’ about the age of unaccompanied migrant children. The age of unaccompanied migrant children is too often disputed, putting their welfare and best interests at risk, the Committee says. It stresses that changing that culture is a paramount concern. The report calls for the benefit of the doubt to be given more often as part of a more sensitive process, and notes the need to provide robust data for the full scrutiny of cases where age is disputed.

The report also calls for a child-focused asylum and immigration process. It calls for a stronger emphasis on the age and background of children in those processes. It further calls for the development of a training programme to enable frontline staff to better understand the needs of children, and for the issuing of clear guidance that stresses the importance of considering children’s best interests.

Dr Hywel Francis MP, Chair of the Committee, says: “Unaccompanied migrant children in the asylum and immigration processes are some of the most vulnerable young people in the United Kingdom. They have often fled conflict situations abroad or have been victims of abuse and exploitation, including those who arrive as victims of trafficking. It is crucial that they are supported effectively.

 “We do not find it satisfactory that immigration concerns are too often given priority when dealing with such children; in doing so the UK is falling short of the obligations it owes to such children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This is starkly demonstrated by the ‘culture of disbelief’ about the age of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.”

Dr Francis says that the best interests of the unaccompanied children must be brought to the fore from when they enter the country, through to the final decision being made about their future.

“We call on the Government to make the changes that will ensure that focus, and by doing so demonstrate its commitment to the rights of all children in the UK regardless of their immigration status,” Dr Francis says.

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