Funding cuts deny refugee and migrant children access to justice

Young refugees and migrants on their own in the UK don’t receive the necessary advice and representation, a new report by the Coram Children’s Legal Centre has revealed.

This lack of assistance has significant consequences for the children’s safety and future.

According to “Navigating the System”, many of the legal and support services provided to this group are under strain, facing significant financial challenges and an uncertain future.
The report is based on interviews with practitioners and cases from the Centre’s work with migrant children.

“Separated” children and young people include those who have been trafficked; those who are seeking asylum; those who have been separated from their family once in the UK; and those who are being privately fostered.

Without family, and forced to navigate highly complex administrative and judicial processes that will determine their future, they are reliant on the advice and support of professionals including lawyers in several different areas of law, social workers, key workers, support workers, foster carers, advocates and charity staff and volunteers.

For some, the receipt of this advice and representation can mean the difference between life and death as they apply to the UK Border Agency to remain in the UK, the report showed.
Often already facing discriminatory practice by public authorities, funding cuts have had a significant impact on services for this group, leading to the loss of specialist children’s services teams, fewer advocates, and increased strain on social workers.

Charities and NGOs which offer advice and support are similarly suffering, with the refugee sector hit by some of the largest cuts. At least 50% of organisations surveyed for this report did not have future funding secured.
The report also highlighted the problems of securing good quality legal representation. It in fact revealed that 71% of practitioners were struggling to find immigration lawyers to take on children’s cases.

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, which received Royal Assent on 1st May 2012, will further make life difficult for these vulnerable children.

The Act will take non-asylum immigration claims, such as those based on the right to private and family life, out of the scope of legal aid funding, even in separated children’s cases.

Kamena Dorling, manager of the Migrant Children’s Project at the Coram Children’s Legal Centre, said: “Many of these children have already experienced human rights abuses in their countries of origin and journeys to the UK that few of us can imagine. Once here, they face hugely complex administrative and legal challenges simply to access the support and protection to which they are entitled.
“These children require access to good advice and free quality legal representation. Without it, they are not able to get the support that they are entitled to, or challenge instances where their rights are violated.”

Ms. Dorling warned that further cuts to legal advice risked “letting down and further marginalising some of the most at risk children and young people in the UK.”

Funding cuts also risk violating UK’s “domestic and international legal obligations to ensure that all children are safeguarded and have access to justice. Children are children first and foremost, whatever country they come from,” Ms. Dorling said.

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