Children often face “confusing and repetitive” questioning by immigration officers who fail to ensure appropriate adults are present. Humanitarian protection is “virtually never considered” for unaccompanied children, let alone granted, researchers found.
Freedom of Information research showed just seven out of 150 local authorities in England look after 43 per cent of all unaccompanied asylum seeking children in the country, overloading social workers who have less time to spend with each child.
As a result, the children have only limited access to good quality legal representation, have less chance of receiving foster care, and are delayed in receiving access to education and religious needs.
The research, by Professor Marie-Bénédicte Dembour, Professor of Law and Anthropology, and Jo Wilding, Research Fellow, from the university’s Centre for Research on Management and Employment, was funded by the EU as part of a study into the way several European countries treat unaccompanied child asylum seekers.
Eleven children and 17 experts were interviewed for the UK research which concluded that the country’s asylum process was “contrary to the child’s best interests”.
Researchers called on the government to:
- Develop child-friendly sharing of responsibility for unaccompanied children so they are not disadvantaged by being concentrated in a few areas.
- Ensure the appropriate adult safeguard is effective as a safeguard for children in interviews.
- Reinstate legal aid for all children’s cases to ensure good-quality representation.
- Allow family reunions for children recognised as refugees.
- Develop a pilot scheme to provide guardianship for all unaccompanied children.
Jo Wilding said: “Unaccompanied migrant children are entitled to protection under domestic legislation and international agreements, the most universally accepted of which is the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
“We hope this report will improve understanding about the best interests of children and provide a solid basis for proper implementation of the principle in practice.”
The university hosted a ‘Home and Away: migrant and refugee resettlement in the UK’ event, as part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s Festival of Social Science on 13 November. Speakers included Dr Mike Collyer (University of Sussex) and Jo Wilding.
There is more information on the research available.