Despite pledging to end child detention for immigration purposes in 2010, the UK Government is still quietly locking up children. It’s getting away with it by calling them adults. We work to release children who have been wrongly locked up alongside adults within Britain’s murky immigration estate. Rauf* was just one of the children we found last year. This is his story.
My name is Rauf and I am from Syria. I am fifteen years old.
I came from a wealthy and well-educated background. My parents hoped I would live a happy and successful life.
I left my country because of conflict. I had never before witnessed such violence. My father had been taken by an extremist group and, as the eldest male, my family was under threat if I remained with them. I do not know what happened to my father. I left my family to look for a place where I would be safe.
On my journey to safety I was subject to horrific abuse at the hands of those who I thought were helping me. Due to this physical and emotional trauma I became violently ill. I was alone, afraid and depressed.
I had hoped to be helped once I reached safety, but on arrival in the UK, I was detained by the police and taken to a detention centre. They told me I was lying about my age. A social worker came to see me and asked me several questions; she also did not believe my age. I was in shock. I had never given much thought to my age but it had become the problem of most significance in my life.
After eight days I was moved to another detention centre, I finally saw a doctor there. I was then referred to the Refugee Council Children’s Section. One man phoned me to say he would come to visit me. He was kind to me and gave me a number I could call him directly on. He spoke to me in my own language. He sent a doctor to see me and check my health. Within a week of meeting him, he helped me get released and was there when I needed him.
He was the only person who listened to me. Once I was released, he ensured I had the proper age assessment. My age was accepted, an age more than three years younger than the one they had given me. The man from the Refugee Council helped me get hold of many school certificates and other documents, some of which were sent from Syria, in order to convince the assessors I was telling the truth.
I was detained for a total of 14 days in an extremely vulnerable state. I was detained in a room with several adults and I was scared to go to sleep. There are no words to describe the horrors of detention: it was a prison. I struggled, and I still receive emotional support from the Refugee Council and others. I do not know how long it will be before I fully recover. I still have nightmares.
I continue to receive support from Helen Bamber Foundation and the Refugee Council. I don’t know how someone can decide your age in 10 minutes. Detention is devastating.
*We’ve changed Rauf’s name to protect his identity.