Make asylum process more child-friendly, UKBA advised

The Children’s Society has urged the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to make its asylum process more child-friendly.

The call came after a new report revealed that unaccompanied children seeking safety in the UK are subjected to a culture of disbelief and suspicion, which leaves them feeling frightened and confused:

“Into the Unknown: Children’s journeys through the asylum process” by The Children’s Society found that, despite some recent improvements, many of the UKBA’s practices fail to take the needs of children fleeing war, turmoil and violence into account.

The report highlights the Agency’s failure to make sure that children understand what is happening to them in the asylum process. The absence of child-friendly information, a wide-spread culture of disbelief and disputes over their age are central to increasing young people’s confusion and sense of insecurity.

This causes already traumatised children greater anxiety, with immediate and potentially long-term consequences for their well-being. Worryingly, there are no systems in place for the UKBA to measure the effect of the asylum system on children’s well-being.

Many of the children The Children’s Society spoke to said that in their asylum interviews, there was no “responsible adult” to act on their behalf or explain what was happening. In some cases, their interpreter did not speak the correct dialect or language, misrepresenting what they had said. This made them feel like their refusal of protection was unjustified.

“The amount of confusion and anxiety expressed by the children we spoke to in the asylum process is very concerning,” The Children’s Society Chief Executive Matthew Reed said. “Although the UKBA has made some progress, there needs to be a fundamental shift in attitude in how they work with children fleeing danger who need our help. Instead of getting the care and support they need, these children are considered with suspicion. In some cases they feel like they are being tricked. Children need to understand what is happening to them and have some control over their situation.”

The Children’s Society urged the UKBA to come up with more child-friendly asylum process. This should include providing specialist training for immigration interpreters who work with these children, establishing an independent complaint and feedback system to inform all stages of the immigration process that children can easily understand, and addressing the ‘culture of disbelief’ that prevents children from being treated fairly.

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