A new investigation by the BBC has revealed that young Afghan asylum seekers who arrived in Britain as unaccompanied children are being returned to Afghanistan despite growing fears for their safety.
The BBC’s film Deported to Afghanistan, highlights that young people who are returned to Afghanistan fear for their lives amid a deteriorating security situation.
The investigation comes in the wake of a pending court judgment on whether or not it is safe to remove people to Afghanistan. The court case follows a deterioration in the security situation in the country, and a grim warning to European countries by the Afghan minister for refugees and repatriation that 80% of the country was not safe to send people back to.
Many unaccompanied children are refused asylum, but are granted permission to stay until they are seventeen and a half. Unless the child has successfully appealed this decision or has been granted more leave to remain, they will be expected to return home when they turn 18. For young people in this situation, turning 18 is a terrifying prospect.
Having received the care and support that they need to help them recover from their ordeal and start to rebuild their fractured childhood in Britain, upon turning 18 many of the children we work with are then asked to return to countries they have not seen since childhood.
Many do not know if their families at home are alive or dead. The thought of being sent back to a country where they don’t know anyone and don’t feel safe causes children extreme anxiety and fear.
We know that too many children people who end up facing removal have been let down by the asylum process and have a well-founded fear of returning to their country.
Unaccompanied children can face many barriers to accessing protection in Britain, including difficulties in getting adequate legal advice and representation at all stages of the asylum process.
To stop wrongfully removing people, we believe the Government must invest in ensuring the right decisions are made about each individual case, by providing adequate opportunities for people who have sought asylum to explain why they need protection here.
The Government must also avoid removing people to dangerous countries where people are at risk of being killed or suffering serious human rights’ violations, or where there is a breakdown of the rule of law.
In cases where people don’t meet the strict criteria in order to be granted refugee status, the British Government should provide temporary protection to nationals of countries where returns cannot be safe, sustainable and carried out under dignified conditions.
The Refugee Council has long been concerned about the lack of independent and government monitoring of the returns process: the British Government appears not to know nor care what happens to people once they are removed from the country.
Refugee Council Chief Executive Maurice Wren said: “Every year, children arrive in Britain completely alone, often having survived highly dangerous clandestine journeys in a desperate quest for peace and safety. These children grow up here; often achieve well in school and then find themselves confused, frightened and abandoned by the country they thought would protect them when they turn 18.
“The Government knows all too well that the asylum system is letting young people down and needs urgent reform to make sure that everyone gets a fair hearing. It also knows it has a legal duty to ensure that people are never returned to countries where their lives will be in danger.
“The Government’s callous determination to force the return of young people to Afghanistan, in flagrant disregard of the advice of experts and of Afghanistan’s own Government Ministers who say the country is unsafe and incapable of protecting those sent back there, is a shameful stain on our humanitarian record.”