Earlier this year the Children’s Commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, investigated the treatment of children who seek asylum in the UK on their own. He joined some children on their ‘journey’ through the Asylum Screening Unit at Croydon and last month he published his findings detailing a series of unacceptable practices that often make the experience unnecessarily frightening, confusing and intimidating for children.
It’s good to see this issue get some attention. Unaccompanied asylum seeking children are some of the most vulnerable children in the UK today – many have fled horrific situations having witnessed torture or the murder of family members and then they have often been trafficked or smuggled into the UK. And it’s no small issue – in 2006 there were more than 3,250 applications from unaccompanied children. In addition to these, another 2000 or so claimed asylum as a child, but were either subjected to an age assessment or treated as adults immediately.
Sir Al found that some children were left hungry, thirsty and alone during the long process, often lasting from 9am to 8pm. There was nothing for the children to do during the long waiting periods and no information on hand to help them to understand what was going to happen. Children were not accompanied by a ‘responsible adult’ or interpreter at crucial points in the process and they often did not know where they will sleep that night.
The report lists detailed recommendations for the redesigning of the screening process which would benefit the children, and also the Border and Immigration Agency who would benefit from higher quality information as a result. Even the simplest of measures, such as giving the children a reassurance that they will be given somewhere to sleep at the end of the day, could ease the trauma of the experience for them. Let’s hope that the Home Office civil servants who are now busy considering these recommendations will make immediate improvements to the screening experience and will consider how the process as a whole could be changed to meet children’s needs and keep them safe.
You can read the full report and comments from the Children’s Commissioner here.