13 November 2015

The Law Centres Network in the UK has published a report titled ‘Put Yourself in Our Shoes’ that calls on the government to keep children’s best interests at the heart of the asylum system. Due to their vulnerability, unaccompanied children who seek asylum should have their best interests prioritised throughout the asylum and care processes and are entitled to specific welfare protection and procedural safeguards.

The report records and analyses the experiences of 60 unaccompanied children who applied for asylum in the UK, and their lawyers, over a one year period. It finds there are a number of areas where, in practice, the best interests of the child are not adequately taken into account. As such, it makes a number of recommendations to improve asylum procedures for unaccompanied children in the UK and so too the skills and training of those working with them.

It notes that although the asylum process focuses on the immediate causes of the child leaving their country of origin, it overlooks other highly relevant factors which, if taken into account, would better enable the assessment of their best interests. These include, according to the children’s experiences, events that occurred during their journeys to the UK. The study reveals how dangerous and traumatic these journeys were; children reliant on agents and exposed to the risk of abuse, exploitation and hardship.

These experiences, together with the ‘suspended expectations’ of asylum-seeking children, caused by a high degree of uncertainty about the outcome of their asylum process, and henceforth, about their futures, are liable to cause stress, anxiety and other mental health problems. In addition, there are few, if any, attempts to seek their opinions or thoughts, or to understand their feelings or desires.

The report finds that there is a lack of support and coordination amongst professionals working with this vulnerable group, both of which are necessary to ensure that these children’s needs are met.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 13 November 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.