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UNHCR releases three important new reports on the experiences of child asylum seekers and refugees in the UK


Reports examine the journey to the UK and the care and support given to unaccompanied children claiming asylum in the UK

Date of Publication:
24 October 2019

UNHCR releases three important new reports on the experiences of child asylum seekers and refugees in the UK

24 October 2019

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Tuesday released three important new reports on child asylum seekers and refugees in the UK.

CoverThey are:

• The 54-page Destination Anywhere: The profile and protection situation of unaccompanied and separated children and the circumstances which lead them to seek refuge in the UK available here.

• The 92-page "A Refugee and Then…": Participatory Assessment of the Reception and Early Integration of Unaccompanied Refugee Children in the UK available here.

• The 72-page Putting the Child at the Centre: An Analysis of the Application of the Best Interests Principle for Unaccompanied and Separated Children in the UK available here.

All three reports were funded by the European Commission.

The report Destination Anywhere presents the findings of research into the profile and protection situation of unaccompanied and separated children and the circumstances that lead them to seek refuge in the UK.

It concludes with a number of recommendations for how the UK government can improve the management and protection of unaccompanied and separated children arriving to the UK to seek asylum, both on and prior to arrival.

A selection of 23 children were interviewed for the report, almost all of whom sought protection from violence, detention, terrorism or the disappearance of family.

The report notes: "The research findings indicate that children tend not to know where they are going at the point of departure from their country of origin. Children and stakeholders alike indicated that the decision to leave is often chaotic and disorienting for the child who may lack knowledge about where their next or final destination will be. Despite the fact that some children will have a clear intention of wanting to reach the UK, or indeed, another EU country from the outset, this was not evident among those interviewed for this study. Overwhelmingly, they reported that their imminent concern was to escape danger and reach a place of safety, without a specific destination in mind."

One legal practitioner with over 20 years of experience working with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is quoted as saying: "Previously the [worst] thing that had happened to your client was in their country of origin, the thing that caused them to leave was the most difficult thing to listen to ... but actually for most of the children that I work with, the journey itself is the worst thing."

The report "A Refugee and Then…" brings together first-hand accounts of young refugees and asylum-seekers and those who support them across the UK, as they describe the path from their arrival to early integration in British society.

It aims to address the relative lack of research exploring the reception arrangements and early integration support for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from the perspectives of local authorities, service providers and, mostly importantly, the children themselves.

UNHCR says: "Findings from the study are intended to inform policy, programming and practice reform for improving reception and integration outcomes for children. The report is divided thematically into areas that shape children's reception and early integration experiences with a series of recommendations under each theme to guide and develop future advocacy work."

The report Putting the Child at the Centre explains: "In 2014, UNHCR and UNICEF published Safe & Sound, a report providing guidance to governments across Europe on strengthening their approach to assessing and determining the best interests of unaccompanied and separated children. Building upon Safe & Sound, this report aims to operationalise the principles it sets out, with a specific focus on the UK context."

It provides concrete proposals for how the best interests principle for unaccompanied and separated children could be strengthened and implemented comprehensively within and across UK systems and procedures.

UNHCR adds: "This report maps the current approach to the consideration of the best interests of unaccompanied and separated children seeking asylum in the UK, with an analysis of the existing children's social care and asylum systems. This has been undertaken with a view to strengthening understanding of these systems and procedures and whether or not they are appropriate and accessible to children falling under UNHCR and Unicef UK's respective mandates."

Of interest to EIN's readers, the report raises concerns over the availability of legal representation, noting:

"Department for Education's statutory guidance identifies ensuring a child can access specialist immigration or asylum legal advice to fully present their claim as crucial, but in practice this is difficult. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012 removed state-funded legal aid from most immigration cases. In July 2018 the government, following a judicial review, announced its intention to lay an amendment to LASPO to bring immigration matters for unaccompanied and separated children back into the scope of legal aid. In the meantime however, limited legal aid is available via the Exceptional Case Funding (ECF) scheme, which is intended to ensure legal aid is accessible in cases where there is a risk of breach of human rights. In practice however, not all lawyers are aware of ECF, or are reluctant to undertake the work as funding is not guaranteed.

"In both immigration and asylum claims, stakeholders report huge difficulty in finding advice with legal aid providers reducing by over 50% in the areas of asylum and immigration between 2005 and 2018 and the presence of advice deserts outside of London and the South East. Findings indicate the 'fixed fees' available for most asylum work is inadequate and pays for less work than is needed to do the required work for each stage of the case, meaning high-quality providers lose money on the cases they undertake."

As noted in Destination Anywhere, there has been an increase in the numbers of unaccompanied and separated refugee children living in the UK in recent years.

In releasing the reports, UNHCR said the UK could take a number of concrete steps to ensure unaccompanied or separated child refugees and asylum seekers arriving in the UK can more quickly recover from trauma and find lasting solutions to their plight.

Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, UNHCR's Representative in the UK, said: "Supporting vulnerable young refugees who arrive in the UK alone and disorientated, often after harrowing experiences, requires a high level of sensitivity and dedicated resources.

"More can be done in the UK to ensure that the system is better attuned to these children's needs so that they are given a better chance to adapt to their new society without adding to the trauma already suffered."