Refugee children arriving alone are being left unsupported and unprotected, reveals UK repor - Refugee Council
August 22, 2001

Refugee children arriving alone are being left unsupported and unprotected, reveals UK repor

Refugee Council press release


Vulnerable lone children fleeing persecution are being dumped in adult bed and breakfast accommodation and left unsupported when they come to the UK in search of safety, reveals a report commissioned by the Refugee Council and Save the Children. Next month, the UK Government is likely to face criticism over its treatment of refugee children at the United Nations Special Session on Children which starts in New York on 19 September.

Separated Children in the UK is an overview of the UK’s policy and practices of caring for unaccompanied minors seeking asylum. Many of them have fled unimaginably horrific situations and experienced or witnessed torture. Some have seen family members violently attacked or murdered. The main conclusion of the report is that access to services is a lottery for separated children and there is a general lack of co-ordination in the provision of services.

The report examines what happens to separated children once they have arrived in the UK: how they are treated by the immigration system, what sort of legal representation they receive, what welfare advice they can access, how they are looked after by social services, where they are accommodated and other issues.

Although some areas of practice and policy within the UK are strong in comparison to other European countries, (for example the system of the Refugee Council’s Home Office-funded independent Panel of Advisers for Unaccompanied Children is cited as a model of good practice), there are still many areas of significant concern. These include:

  • Many separated children, some as young as 15, are expected to look after themselves like adults; there are still anomalies in Government funding to local authorities

  • separated children are kept locked up in detention when they have committed no crime

  • racism and racially motivated attacks in the UK add to the fear and trauma children have already experienced

  • most children are only given temporary immigration status (Exceptional Leave to Remain), leaving them in fear of being returned and insecure about planning a future

  • increased barriers across ‘Fortress Europe’ are forcing children into the hands of dangerous smugglers and traffickers as their only way of reaching a place of safety.

The report reveals the inadequate care provided by many social services departments to young people seeking asylum. Above all, closer co-ordination is needed between the Home Office, the Department of Health and the Department of Education and Skills to ensure comprehensive and high quality care and service delivery.

Judy Lister of Save the Children commented, “The level of support an unaccompanied refugee child receives from the local authority can be a lottery and one of the most worrying practices is that of placing young people in unsupported B&B accommodation. The UK currently lacks a strategic approach to the reception and care of separated children. This needs to be urgently addressed if we are to stop vulnerable children falling through the net.”

Margaret Lally of the Refugee Council said, “It’s clear from this report that separated refugee children are not getting the same level of care as any other child would receive under UK childcare legislation. But we should never forget that any child is a child first and foremost and a refugee second. We have a duty to these children under domestic and international law and they must be protected.”

Woven into the report are the experiences of separated children who have come to the UK, such as Cecile from Africa, the eldest child in her family. Her mother had been involved in a political group fighting for women and marginalised people. Her father belonged to a different political party and when the government began to target members of her mother’s group, he left his family. Soldiers began coming to her house. They beat Cecile, her mother and sisters, then raped them all. After one of these incidents, Cecile’s mother decided to send her away for her own safety. Here in the UK, she is very distressed when she thinks of her family and often relives the terrible scenes of violence and rape. She is terrified of being attacked in the UK and fearful of sleeping. She has been unable to tell her story to her lawyer.


For further information and interviews please contact:
Refugee Council press office: 020 7820 3057/3044 0870 055 5500 pager 865169 out of hours or Save the Children press office: 020 7716 2280 07831 650409 out of hours.

Notes to Editors:
1. An unaccompanied child is the definition used by the Home Office to describe a child under 18 outside their country of origin who is not accompanied by a close relative (regardless of whether or not that relative usually cares for the child).This makes it a more narrowly defined term than separated children.
2. Last year, 2735 unaccompanied children applied for asylum in the UK. In 1999 there were 3349 such applications (45% were from Kosovo). In 1997 the number was 1105, in 1995 it was 603 and in 1992, the Home Office received 190 asylum applications from unaccompanied children.
3. Separated Children in the UK: An overview of the current situation by Wendy Ayotte and Louise Williamson. The report’s findings were based on interviews with representatives of government departments, NGOs and local authorities. Save the Children UK and the Refugee Council are members of the Separated Children in Europe Programme.
4. Save the Children UK previously published Separated Children Coming to Western Europe: Why they travel and how they arrive by Wendy Ayotte. In October 2001, Save the Children will publish the research from extensive interviews with separated children in the UK.
5. The Refugee Council is the national organisation which provides information, advice and practical support to asylum seekers and refugees. It also advocates on their behalf.
6. Save the Children (UK) is the country’s leading international children’s charity working to make a reality of every child’s right to a happy, safe and secure childhood. The charity has 80 years experience in working with the poorest children in 70 countries world-wide including the UK.

External links

Save the Children UK website,

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