Young asylum seekers in Wales in limbo

Age disputed by the agencies meant to be helping them
12th August 2011: A report on asylum seekers has asserted that many of them are left in an indeterminate state due to culture of disbelief regarding their age among authorities dealing with their cases.
The report indicates more than a few young asylum seekers in Wales are being left “in limbo” as their age is disputed by the agencies meant to be helping them.

The Welsh Refugee Council’s (WRC) report, Young Lives In Limbo, indicates at the existence of a culture of disbelief in the authorities dealing with asylum seekers with age is under question.

The report “describes the experiences of young asylum seekers whose lives are in limbo because their age is disputed by the UKBA and Local Authorities”.

The report says children and young people have “neither been given sufficient information concerning the age assessment process, nor the opportunity to have their views taken into consideration….

“Many have missed out on the vital education to which they are entitled while others have experienced serious mental health issues as a result of the process.

“Some have also been identified as victims of human trafficking. The treatment of age- disputed young people in Wales indicates that many separated children have been denied the protection, provision and participation rights guaranteed to them by Welsh and UK government obligations under the UNCRC.”

Reacting to the  report by the Welsh Refugee Council, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Keith Towler, said: “I’m disappointed but not really surprised to read the findings of this report. It seems that the culture of disbelief from practitioners coupled with the insufficient information given to children and young people is resulting in inadequate and inconsistent practice.

“I will be interested to see how Welsh Government, UKBA and local authorities respond to and address these recommendations and look forward to meeting them all, alongside the Welsh Refugee Council, in six months to discuss progress.”

The WRC makes it clear that age assessment policy and practice is “inadequate and inconsistent” resulting in children being “accommodated with much older adults, detained in immigration removal centres, and subjected to forced removal to countries such as Afghanistan”.

Towler said: “It seems that the culture of disbelief from practitioners, coupled with insufficient information given to children and young people, is resulting in inadequate and inconsistent practice.”

Michael Lewis, chief executive of the WRC, said the age assessment process needs to be “significantly improved as a matter of urgency”.

“It seems to me that when we get it wrong we allow children and young people to be abused and damaged by a process.

“Wales is quite rightly proud of the protection it provides to the most vulnerable. We all need to do more to ensure that we in Wales can develop a system which we are all proud to endorse and which does not exacerbate a difficult and challenging situation.”

The report calls on the Welsh Government to work with the UK Government to ensure children in Wales subject to the asylum process have their rights under the UNCRC fulfilled.

It also wants local authorities to ensure arrangements to safeguard and promote the best interests of children seeking asylum are embedded throughout the age assessment process.

The UK Border Agency, on the other hand, said it did not accept that a culture of disbelief exists within its organisation.

A UKBA spokesman said: “The welfare of children within our immigration system is essential, which is why age assessments are carried out independently by social workers with expert knowledge.

“All of our front-line staff receive specialist training to ensure that the welfare of the child is considered at every stage.”

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