A recent report by the Children’s Commissioner for England has highlighted failings in the UK’s treatment of unaccompanied child asylum seekers at asylum screening units.
An investigation by 11 Million, the organisation led by the Children’s Commissioner, found that children’s basic needs for food, accommodation and legal advice were often not met. The report suggested that ignoring these basic needs impacted upon children’s ability to understand and contribute to their screening interviews.
Most unaccompanied child asylum seekers are trafficked or smuggled into the UK and therefore do not claim asylum at the border. The report assessed how children were treated when they presented themselves at the Asylum Screening Unit in Croydon.
One of the greatest concerns regarded the issue of establishing age. Observers from 11 Million found that too much discretion was given to immigration officers in deciding age-disputed cases. Establishing an applicant’s age is critical for deciding whether he/she should be provided with accommodation and accompanied by a ‘responsible adult’ during interviews. While policy mandates that children at asylum screening units are entitled to a ‘responsible adult’ to guide them through the screening process, no such protection exists for age-disputed applicants, even though their age is undecided.
The report also highlighted other problems detrimental to children’s well-being. In the screening units there is a separate waiting room for children but no food is available and no signs for where food or toilets can be found. The 11 Million observers found that children were unlikely to ask for food in such an intimidating, formal environment and that their hunger would negatively impact upon their screening interviews. The observers found that the whole process was too long for children, particularly when they had the added anxiety about where they would be accommodated that night and where they could get food from.
The 11 Million observers found that no written policy exists on how staff should conduct interviews with children, which results in inconsistencies and excessively long interviews. There were also problems found with the content of those interviews. Screening interviews are only intended to establish the applicants’ identity and how they made their way to the UK; it should not involve questions on asylum claims. However, in one case, observed by an 11 Million employee, an applicant was asked eighteen questions about his asylum claim without the benefit of prior legal advice. This information can then be used in deciding an applicant’s asylum claim.
The report which described the current process as ‘frightening, confusing [and] intimidating’ recommended that children’s immediate needs for food, accommodation, cleanliness and legal representation should be prioritised before the lengthy process begins.
Download a copy of Claiming asylum at a screening unit as an unaccompanied child by the Children’s Commissioner for England, (pdf file, 480kb)