A new research report has strengthened the call for all unaccompanied children seeking asylum to have guardians.
In the UK there is currently no requirement for separated children to be allocated a guardian. As well as providing the child with independent information and support, a guardian would also have legal powers to act on the child’s behalf in order to protect their interests.
The report, Right to Justice, has been published by the European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) in partnership with a number of other NGOs across Europe, including the Refugee Council, and examines the quality of legal advice given to separated children.
It concluded that guardians ‘play the central role in ensuring access to legal assistance’.
The UK Government has so far resisted calls for all unaccompanied children to be given guardians, instead promising to pilot a scheme of personal advocates under its new Modern Slavery Bill.
Unfortunately, these personal advocates will not have legal powers and will only be allocated to children who are suspected of being as victims of trafficking.
The report also highlighted the UK’s lack of independent monitoring of the quality of legal advice received by unaccompanied minors. This results in the quality of legal advice being patchy, and practitioners being largely unaccountable despite playing a crucial role in progressing a child’s asylum claim.
Refugee Council Policy Manager Judith Dennis said: “Children who arrive in the UK alone have often suffered severe trauma. They may have witnessed the death of family members or been taken advantage of by unscrupulous people smugglers on their journey to safety.
“When children arrive, they are usually frightened and exhausted and often are unable to explain their experiences fully and coherently to immigration officials.
“The asylum system is incredibly complex and we fully support this report’s finding that children need an independent adult, someone who they can trust and who has statutory powers to help them, by their side throughout the process.
“Good quality advice and support can be the difference between having a safe and secure future and spending years living in uncertainty ahead of being returned to a country where your life could be at risk.”