UK asylum system is 'traumatic' for children

A report issued by the Children's Society has criticised the United Kingdom's treatment of children from overseas who claim asylum. The report says that UK immigration officials have developed 'a culture of disbelief'. Asylum seekers who arrive in the UK find that UK Border Agency (UKBA) staff too often assume that their claims are not genuine. The report recommends that the children should be believed more and be given more support.

The Children's Society interviewed 33 young asylum seekers, mostly male. They came from various countries including Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Somalia, Sudan and Syria. The 33 are just a small fraction of the total: 1,277 unaccompanied children arrived in the UK and claimed asylum in the last year.

Those asylum seekers who are believed to be under 18 by UK Border Agency officers are generally housed with foster parents or in council housing. They are given support from social workers and, where appropriate placed in school. Some of those interviewed had positive experiences but many found their experiences upsetting.

The report states that they felt 'powerless'. Many reported that UKBA staff were rude and questioned them aggressively, trying to catch them out. The Report says 'a central pillar of our child protection system is to give children the benefit of the doubt. However, this does not appear to be the case for children subject to immigration control.'

Some of the interviewed children complained that they were interviewed alone with no responsible adult present. While interpreters were provided at interviews, some complained that the interpreter provided did not speak their language or dialect and some felt that what they said had been misrepresented to UKBA officers.

Matthew Reed, the chief executive officer of the Children's Society, said that the culture of mistrust left the children with a sense of grievance. They felt that officers started with the assumption that they were lying and tried to trick them into admitting that this was the case. Mr Reed said 'Instead of getting the care and support they need, these children are considered with suspicion. In some cases they feel like they are being tricked. Children need to understand what is happening to them.'

The report also criticises the UKBA for having 'out of date' guidance for officers. The guide used by the UKBA is six years old and needs to be updated. The report says that the UKBA routinely loses case files and identification documents belonging to asylum seekers causing them even greater stress.

The report recommends that the UKBA establish a child-friendly and independent complaints procedure and provides each child with independent legal assistance. They should also be kept better informed about the asylum process.

The UKBA says it is addressing the matters raised in the report. A UKBA representative said 'We take our responsibility for the care of children very seriously. We have specially trained staff to handle their cases and the best interests of the child are at the heart of the decision making process. Work is under way in many of the areas identified by the report but we will consider the report carefully.'

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