A new report reveals that the UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) interviews show ‘scant regard’ for the welfare of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
The report, entitled Safe at last? Children on the front line of border control, published by Refugee and Migrant Justice (RMJ), finds that children arriving in Dover, often suffering from illness or injuries, are being denied basic rights like rest, food and medical treatment, and are interviewed without an independent adult or legal representative. RMJ also found that information taken from these interviews is often used against the children in their claims for international protection.
The UKBA claims that these initial interviews are conducted in order to identify any welfare issues of the child and are not used to help determine the outcome of an asylum claim. RMJ, however, has discovered more than a little confusion among UKBA staff about the purpose of the interviews, and in the thirty cases investigated by RMJ, ‘no evidence’ was found that suggested that the child’s welfare was the priority of UKBA officials on the ground.
Using the words of the children themselves, the report reveals that despite often needing immediate medical and emotional attention, the newly arrived children, some as young as 13, are offered nothing of the sort when they are first taken for questioning. Amir, who was 13 when he crossed the channel underneath a lorry and who had been travelling for five months from Afghanistan before arriving in the UK, remembers the fear and confusion of that day: ‘When we got off the lorry we were taken inside the back of a car, which had metal guards on the window. We waited there until daylight. No one said what was going to happen.’ Ali, also 13, said ‘When I arrived in the UK I was arrested and handcuffed. I think the police arrested me. I was feeling very ill and I was tired and hungry. I told the police officers that I was tired and needed to sleep but they said I could not.’ Zubeir, aged 16, who arrived with serious injuries to his legs after an allied bombardment in his town in Afghanistan, recalls being offered no medical attention by UKBA staff: ‘I told the interviewer straight away about my injuries … and I told him I was in a lot of pain. I was asked not to show them my injuries. They kept going with the interview. They didn’t stop.’
RMJ points out that under legislation introduced last year to protect migrant children, the UKBA has a statutory duty to ensure that the welfare of asylum seeking children is safeguarded. Section 55 for the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 sets out guidelines that require the UKBA to protect every migrant and asylum seeking child from maltreatment and ensure that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration. As such, RMJ finds that the practice of interviewing children on arrival, without an accompanying adult or legal representative is as unlawful as it is inhumane, and calls for it to be stopped immediately.
Download a copy of Safe at last? Children on the front line of border control here (pdf file, 460kb)