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Report reveals vulnerable migrant children in the UK have nowhere to turn

Migrant children

Tue 22nd August, 2017

Research from the University of Bedfordshire has found that vulnerable migrant children alone in the UK face cuts to help with legal costs and soaring Home Office fees as they struggle to resolve their immigration cases.

The report Cut off from Justice, produced by the University and The Children’s Society, reveals that the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offender Act (LASPO) in 2013 has denied unaccompanied migrant children legal aid for non-asylum immigration cases, leaving them struggling to pay for the expert legal advice they desperately need.

Those affected by the changes include:

  • Unidentified victims of trafficking;
  • Asylum seeking children extending their leave;
  • Children with unidentified international protection claims;
  • Children who are in local authority care after becoming separated from their families;
  • Children born in the UK who may be able to claim British citizenship.

Without legal aid, children must find the money themselves, rely on services offering free immigration advice, or make a claim for Exceptional Case Funding.*

The report reveals that the number of free legal services available for children’s immigration cases has halved in the past four years. At the same time, in 2015/16, just 15 applications for the Exceptional Case Funding were made for children needing legal support for immigration cases, out of thousands expected.

This handful of applications represents less than 1% of the 2,490 children who relied on Legal Aid in the final year before the cuts were implemented.

Dr Helen Connolly, a researcher at the University and co-author of the report, said: “The current system is putting children in an impossible, and possibly dangerous, situation at a time when they need the most help and are at their most vulnerable. We cannot expect children and young people, who have already been through so much, to tackle the complex world of immigration alone with no support.”

Even if a young person gets legal aid, they still have to find a way to pay Home Office administration fees, which can be as high as £2,300. These fees are climbing sharply, with increases of up to 119% in the last four years.

With no other options, some children try to resolve their immigration issues on their own, putting them at risk of exploitation as they try to find a way to pay the thousands of pounds of legal costs and application fees themselves.

“Within a context where there has been no Government review of the legal aid changes and where there is limited systematic research evidence on the impact of these changes on unaccompanied migrant children, this work is absolutely crucial in highlighting the serious protection gaps that have emerged from these changes. I hope that this report will generate important and much needed discussions and expectations around how these gaps can be redressed at policy and practice levels,” said Dr Connolly.

The report calls on the Government to reinstate legal aid for all unaccompanied and separated migrant children, and to waive application fees and the costly immigration health surcharge in their immigration applications.

The Children’s Society’s Policy Director Sam Royston said: “Expecting extremely vulnerable children and young people to find their way through complex legal problems on their own is unreasonable and cruel. Cut off from crucial help with legal costs and with Home Office application fees soaring, vulnerable children are finding themselves in impossible situations, with nowhere left to turn.”

* Exceptional Case Funding is a scheme which should make sure the most vulnerable in society can still get help with legal costs. The report shows that this is an inappropriate system for children.

Bedfordshire University

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