Lone Asylum Seeking Children: The Home Office’s biggest failure?
When we visualise asylum seekers, we often see young men. This is no surprise, as even through my research, nearly all general articles about refugees and asylum seekers on European shores have pictures of groups of young men. However, the forgotten group of people arriving at our shores in seek of protection is not these men, but young children.
According to the Home Office, ‘unaccompanied Asylum Seeking children’ are those children and young people who are ‘are seeking asylum in the UK but who have been separated from their parents or carers’. Of course, many of these children are those who are being trafficked into the country.
In light of this, it seems reasonable to expect that the Home Office, given that it becomes their responsibility, to look after these children once they reach British borders. However, it should come as no surprise that they do not even manage to do an adequate job of this.
Facts and Figures:
There’s a reason I wish to talk about this topic. Not only is it insufficiently reported upon by mainstream media, but it is seemingly similarly forgotten by the Home Office. Through a sift of their documents, there is minimal information on lone asylum seeking children.
According to the Refugee Council UK:
- In the year ending September 2022, the UK received 5,152 applications for asylum from unaccompanied children.
- A large portion of these children came from Sudan, a country which was facing political instability after years of conflict and another conflict on the rise.
- In addition to those Sudanese children, unaccompanied children also come from countries including Iran, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Iraq, Albania, Ethiopia, and Syria.
- The majority of these children are aged between 14 and 17 years old.
- Many of these children may be trafficked into the UK to be forced into domestic servitude, sexual exploitation and other forms of forced labour including cannabis cultivation.
There are three identified ways in which these unaccompanied asylum seeking children enter the UK.
1. Spontaneous Arrivals
It is reported that most of these children arrive in the UK by their own means and are encountered either at their port of entry, at the Asylum Intake Unit in Croydon, or are otherwise encountered by police or social services.
NB: the following two ways were applicable pre-Brexit. They are, however, pertinent to this conversation as they speak to the methods the Home Office apply to uphold their responsibility towards lone asylum seeking children.
2. Dublin Amendment
This way involved the resettlement of those unaccompanied asylum seeking children who were already in France, Greece or Italy. The scheme, which is arguable an example of kindness from the British Home Office, prioritised children aged 12 or under. These children were treated so if they were at high risk of sexual exploitation. Additionally, they would have to be children of Sudanese or Syrian nationality. The transfer to the UK would have been determined on the basis of the best interests of the child.
3. Dublin III Regulation
This basis allowed children who had to be reunited with their family members to be transferred to the UK and claim asylum in the company of people they know.
How does the Home Office deal with these children?
Well, when these children arrive on British land, they are housed in hotels. This is the same way in which adult asylum seekers are handled.
Now, a few years ago, the process was to put the child in the care of a local authority. The local authority would receive the necessary funding to ensure that these children are placed in the care of foster families who would look after them. This would often also involve providing those children who have gone through trauma with the necessary psychological assistance.
However, as of 2021, the Home Office decided that it would be easier (in what was most likely a decision made solely on a financial basis), to house children in the same way as adults.
The consequence of this, was that children were being kept in hotels which are already considered to be inadequate places to keep people (many a charity have argued human rights violations). In light of this, the charity Every Child Protected Against Trafficking brought legal action against the government department over their practice of placing children in hotels.
What was the judgment?
In a rather stern, but appreciated judgment, Justice Chamberlain said that “the routine use of hotels for unaccompanied asylum seeking children had become unlawful, as the power to place the children in hotels was only intended to ‘be used on very short periods in true emergency situations’”.
It has been contended that as of 17 July 2023, there were 208 child asylum seekers being accommodated in hotels. Now, you may think that this is no particularly big deal. Well, the issue is not whether or not these children should be kept in hotels or not. There is no doubt that the human rights issues which are raised when discussing adults similarly apply to the experiences of these children. However, the Home Office has a greater problem at hand.
So what is the issue?
However, what is important is the fact that since April 2023, over 440 children have gone missing from these asylum hotels, mostly within 72 hours of arriving in the UK. It is unclear when the count of these children began, but it is a shocking figure regardless.
It is the Home Office’s duty to ensure that lone asylum seeking children are protected, often from the horrors they are running from. For instance, those who are claiming asylum as a result of having been trafficked are once again, as a direct result of the Home Office’s irresponsibility, placed in that vulnerable state. The worst aspect of this is that these children are missing, suggesting that not only have the Home Office been so useless at providing adequate protection, but cannot even ensure that these children are placed back into a safe place.
Additionally, despite the judgment against the use of asylum hotels being made earlier this year, it was reported just a few days ago that that the Home Office continues to keep children there. It is a shame that they continue to contend, as they had in their lawsuit, that these hotels are not only lawful but are “deployed effectively as a ‘safety net’ and as a “matter of necessity”. This, unfortunately, only shows how negligent the Home Office continues to act.
As stated by Justice Chamberlain in his conclusions, “ensuring the safety and welfare of children with no adult to look after them is among the most fundamental duties of any civilised state”. If the UK wishes to continue labelling themselves as so, it is vital that they learn to provide adequate protection to lone asylum seeking children: arguably the most vulnerable type of asylum seeker.
This must start with eradicating their reliance on asylum hotels, and ensuring that children are integrated properly into British society. If this means relying on local authorities, so be it. However, that is not to advocate for negligence through delegation. The Home Office does, and will forever have the responsibility for unaccompanied children.