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Child refugees left stranded alone in the UK


Thu 10th August, 2017

Child refugees are being left stranded alone in the UK because there is no legal right for children to sponsor their families say academics from the University of Bedfordshire’s Centre for Research in Law at a roundtable event held last month.

The session ‘A Minor’s Journey Across Europe: From Age Assessment to Family Reunion’, led by Bedfordshire’s lecturers in law Dr Elena Gualco and Dr Silvia Borelli revealed the challenges being faced by children when they apply for and once they had been granted refugee status.

They found that while achieving family reunion for child refugees has been stressed as part of the children’s right to family life and family unity under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) there is no right for children to sponsor their parents to be reunited in the UK.

Dr Elena Gualco commented: “Child refugees are only able to apply for family reunion outside the immigration rules, an avenue which remains obscure and is often inaccessible.

“In addition legal aid cuts and lack of awareness among advisors of refugee children – whether social workers, foster carers and even legal representatives – of potential funding avenues to achieve family reunion remain as obstacles while equally, deep-rooted institutional attitudes in favour of immigration control make the success of applications outside the rules difficult, if not wholly unlikely.”

Child refugees research meeting

The attendees at the roundtable also unanimously agreed on the vulnerability of asylum-seeking children around age assessment procedures, and spoke of the dire consequences of children being mistakenly assessed to be an adult.

They pointed out the lack of training of officers and social workers in carrying out age assessment, and the culture of disbelief which lead assessors to start from the presumption that an applicant is an adult, rather than a child.

Dr Gualco said: “The issue is compounded by the fact that children often have a poor understanding of the process, and in their confusion may give inconsistent statements to different representatives, leading to escalating scepticism about their credibility.

“The age assessment decision - adulthood or childhood - is not only relevant to determining the safeguards an applicant will be entitled to while he/she is waiting for a decision on his/her asylum application, but is also crucial to the outcome of the asylum application itself.”

The roundtable held at the University of Bedfordshire aimed to identify the shortcomings of the UK asylum system for young persons with regard to age assessment and to explore the avenues to family reunion for child refugees. It relied on the insight of leading legal practitioners, NGO workers and refugee law specialists to inform the research project.

Notes for Editors:

  • The expert roundtable was attended by Garden Court Chambers barristers, Bryony Poynor and Jo Wilding, British Red Cross professionals, Vanessa Cowan (Refugee Family Reunion Project Manager) and Helen Mead (Refugee Family Reunion Project Caseworker), Refugee Council Policy Manager, Judith Dennis, and the University of Bedfordshire Senior Legal Officer, Ashahul Ali.
  • The roundtable also benefited from the insight of experienced refugee support professionals, such as Fiona Cameron (Director of the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum, NNRF), Stewart MacLachlan (Legal and Policy Officer for the Migrant Children’s Project, Coram Children’s Legal Centre), Anna Skehan (Solicitor at the Migrant & Refugee Children’s Legal Unit of the Islington Law Centre), and the Bedford Refugee and Asylum-Seeker Support (BRASS) coordinator, Brian Cunningham.

Bedfordshire University

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