Today the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has released a new report into the handling of asylum applications made by unaccompanied children.
The inspection examined how unaccompanied children were treated by the Home Office when first encountered at ports, airports and elsewhere, the handling of cases where the Home Office disputed the applicant’s age and the application of procedural safeguards to children’s asylum interviews and to the decisions made on their claims.
The report identified failings in the screening process and significant inconsistencies in the timing and outcome of applications depending on where they were made.
The Refugee Council knows that the screening process for children has been inadequate for years, with children being inappropriately questioned and widespread confusion among staff about the purpose of screening interviews. The Home Office must address these shortcomings in its upcoming review of the screening process.
The report also praised staff for appropriately following current policy in dealing with young people whose age is in question. Unfortunately, current policy is not robust enough, and too many children are being wrongfully imprisoned.
So far in 2013, the Refugee Council has secured the release of 25 children found in detention, who had been incorrectly assessed to be adults. This figure is likely to be the tip of the iceberg, with more cases of children being wrongly detained going unreported and unchallenged.
The Government must keep its promise to end child detention by stopping the imprisonment of young asylum seekers whose age is disputed.
Refugee Council Policy Officer Judith Dennis said: “While we welcome many of the findings of this report, it clearly shows that the UK has a long way to go before children in the asylum system have their claims properly assessed and have their welfare is sufficiently safeguarded. Children should be treated as children first, regardless of their immigration status.”