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Children seeking asylum in UK “denied protection”

Report by Refugee and Migrant Justice shows that new UK Border Agency Code “routinely flouted”

10th March 2009: UK Government has failed in its commitment to safeguard child asylum seekers, a new report shows.

The report “Does Every Child Matter?” by Refugee and Migrant Justice (formerly the Refugee Legal Centre) shows that the new UK Border Agency Code is ‘routinely flouted’.

Asylum seeking children in Britain face a ‘hostile legal process’ and are regularly locked up and left without adult support, the report shows.

Coming just two months after the UK Border Agency published its first Code of Practice for keeping children safe from harm, this is the first ever comprehensive review of children’s experiences since the introduction of the Code.

The report reveals extensive bad practice and breaches of the Code that are already occurring and also highlights major omissions, both of which put vulnerable children at risk. It claims that there is a major gap between the Government’s aspirations of a fair and humane system, and the reality.

“Does Every Child Matter?” shows that children seeking asylum in the UK, of whom there were 7700 in 2007, are routinely denied fundamental protections enjoyed by UK children, with their families consigned to poverty, locked up and many left in limbo, often for years.

Drawing on extensive evidence, and illustrating this with a dozen ‘live’ RMJ cases, the report reveals that despite the Code, asylum seeking children are: Uncounted in official poverty statistics, with their families confined to poverty; Subject to a hostile legal process, sometimes without adult representation or support, and often facing a ‘culture of disbelief’ when recounting their traumatic histories; Left in limbo for months or years without clear decisions about their future, unable to start rebuilding their lives; and often locked up, sometimes for months, when all they have done is sought sanctuary.

Caroline Slocock, Chief Executive of Refugee and Migrant Justice said: “We welcome the Government’s genuine aspiration to keep children seeking asylum safe from harm but this report shows it has a long way to go. Not only are there real gaps in the Government’s Code but, even where its provisions are good, they are routinely being flouted.”

Home Office interviews children without a legal representative or responsible adult present

While the UKBA Code asserts: “children’s cases must be handled sensitively on arrival and when they make applications”, “Does Every Child Matter?” found out that children are frequently interviewed by the Home Office without a legal representative or responsible adult present. G, an 8 year old boy, was interviewed without a legal representative. He was asked to complete an application stating his case for asylum, without any legal assistance. It is estimated that 2,000 children are locked up each year with their families. Others are locked up alone when they are wrongly considered to be adult. The government does not publish statistics on the number of children it detains each year. It says these figures could only be produced at “disproportionate cost”.

asylumchildren1.jpgThe report also shows that children are routinely subjected to hostile legal processes designed for adults and treated as if they were not telling the truth. For example, the case of C, who was 12 years old when she arrived in the UK and was raped and made by pregnant by the man who brought her here; UKBA refused to believe she was trafficked even though they knew she had had a termination and that the police were investigating the case.

The Government, according to the report, fails to publish proper statistics, not just on detention but also, for example, on the outcome of appeals against refusal of asylum in children’s cases and on removals.

Caroline Slocock, said: “Many children who come here seeking sanctuary have experienced combat or have witnessed or experienced torture. All are vulnerable. Gordon Brown has led the government in a commitment that ‘every child matters.’ We’re now calling on him to put all children “first and foremost” and apply in practice the same standard for children seeking asylum as other children in Britain, closing the gap we have found between rhetoric and reality."

Lisa Nandy, Policy Adviser at the Children’s Society said: "This important report highlights the discriminatory treatment of children who seek asylum in the UK. There is no more stark example of this than the 2000 children who are locked up without time limit or judicial oversight every year in immigration detention centres. As a first step the Government must urgently stop this dangerous and inhumane practice."

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