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Children left in limbo by asylum system

Children who arrive alone in the UK seeking asylum face a struggle to get their voices heard in a system designed to deal with adults, according to a recent report by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner.

Children and young people who claim asylum are placed in the care system until they turn 18 but if their claims fail they are then required to leave the UK. This interrupts their education and disrupts their lives, says the report. Having learned English and settled in the UK, they are then asked to return to countries they have not seen since childhood, where languages are spoken which they may not be able to write.

The Children’s Commissioner’s report recommends that this group of young people’s permission to remain should be aligned with care leaving legislation to allow them to complete their education or training. This would provide the vital grounding they need to progress with their lives successfully after leaving the UK, taking with them skills that could benefit the countries to which they are returned.

Key findings in the report include:

  • There is an unresolved conflict between the UK’s leaving care and immigration legislation. The grant from the Home Office that supports these young people beyond the age of 18 is withdrawn once permission to stay is finally refused, leaving local authorities to foot the bill for any further care and support they provide. This applies even where the Home Office accepts that there are barriers to the young person’s removal.
  • Once final permission to remain in the UK is refused they enter a limbo state. They cannot be returned home, yet they cannot gain legal employment or claim benefits. Too many of them fall into destitution, illegal work or possibly crime, costing the UK more than they should, and yet unable to return home even after their claims have been refused.
  • Although European law places a duty on states to secure legal representation for unaccompanied children, the report finds that in practice, no single UK agency owns the duty to ensure this happens.
  • Loss of any further legal basis to stay means the young person concerned having to report to an immigration office. When they do so some are detained pending their removal. This situation creates anxiety ahead of these visits. For some young people this becomes a trigger to disengage with all services, and to go underground, becoming invisible to the services that could protect them, as well as to the agencies that would like to see them removed once doing so is confirmed as a safe option. Tracing and working with them when this happens also costs money.

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