Every year, thousands of individuals who arrive in the UK and claim asylum as separated children are age disputed and treated as adults. A new report, released by the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, examines the reasons why age is disputed, current policy and procedures for the assessment of age by local authorities, and the implications of age disputes for separated children seeking asylum in the UK.
In 2005 nearly half (45 percent) of all asylum applicants presenting as separated children were age disputed and treated as adults. Being age disputed has significant implications for the way in which a separated child’s application for asylum is assessed and for the welfare and educational support that he or she receives. Many of these disputes remain unresolved with implications for the Home Office, social service departments, legal representatives, voluntary sector practitioners and, most importantly, separated asylum-seeking children themselves.
The new research, undertaken by Dr Heaven Crawley, of the Centre for Migration Policy Research, Swansea University, provides a detailed, evidence-based analysis of current policy and practice in relation to age disputes. The report finds:
- The problem of age disputes is linked to prevailing cultures of cynicism and disbelief among immigration officers and some social workers. There is an over-reliance on physical appearance and credibility as indicators of age;
- There are significant failings in Home Office procedures for ensuring that appropriate referrals are made and that children are able to access a formal age assessment;
- There is considerable variation in the quality of the age assessment process undertaken by local authorities. This variation reflects a lack of statutory guidance and inadequate training and support for social workers;
- There is a potential conflict of interest between the requirement of social service departments to undertake age assessments and the obligation to provide services to children in need.
The report concludes that the current approach to age disputes and the process of age-assessment benefits no-one, and that procedures are unclear, protracted, costly and put children at risk. It also develops a four-step model with the intention of reducing the number of disputes, improving the assessment process, and establishing appropriate mechanisms for reviewing the assessment process.
To download the full report or the executive summary of When is a child not a child? Asylum, age disputes and the process of age assessment, click here.