"All the people here are older": teenagers put at risk in adult hotels - Refugee Council
November 1, 2023

“All the people here are older”: teenagers put at risk in adult hotels

Too many young people under the age of 18, who arrive in the UK alone, are being put at risk in adult hotels – because they are not believed about their age.

Some of the teenagers we work with have been speaking about their experiences. These young people have traveled from Afghanistan, Sudan or Eritrea – some of the most dangerous countries in the world right now. They’ve made desperate and traumatic journeys in the hope of reaching safety.

We’d like to see them treated fairly when they arrive. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, as Passali* from Afghanistan explains:

When I arrived I didn’t feel good. They gave me a paper, and my age was incorrect. I didn’t know English. I said this is not correct, they said you can correct it later. I’m 16 and a half, they said I was 18.

We don’t have clothes, but the weather is cold…It’s not good for us. We suffer with depression and anxiety.

At the Refugee Council, we work with hundreds of young people every year who are placed in the adult system as a result of an incorrect assumption about their age. They are put in adult hotels (and sometimes even in detention) where they are neglected, frightened, and at risk of exploitation and abuse. Often it takes them a long time to get their ages corrected, and during this time, they don’t get the support or education that all young people need.

Like all teenagers, they are full of potential, and we know that given the right chances, these boys will go on to thrive. Every day, they show courage, hope and enthusiasm, despite the tough experiences they’ve had.

To help us with this work, please consider making a donation to our winter campaign.

We’re asking the Home Office to improve their process, so that young people under 18 are not mistreated in this way.

"I am 16 years old... I am alone."

Muneeb* from Sudan describes how it feels to be put in an adult hotel.

I have been here for 2 months, living in this hotel. All the people here are older… I am 16 years old. There are not many people I know from my country. There is an older man in my room.

There is no one in the hotel who helps me with English or with any advice. I am alone. I like to play football, but I do not have the opportunity to play here.

I left from Sudan… I did not know anyone. No family, no friends with me. For the future I hope Allah will guide me.

"I feel lost." Photo: Joel Goodman.

Faisal* is from Eritrea, and feels unhappy and unsafe.

My real age is 16, but they told me I am 26! They did not have anyone who speaks my language, they spoke to me in Arabic in a way I did not understand.

I’m sharing with a man who’s about 30. I feel lost. Sometimes I put my head under the bedding and cry. I miss my mum.

Kama Petruczenko is a senior policy analyst at the Refugee Council, and says there are “very serious safeguarding implications” when children are sent into the adult system. Some of the young people we work with are now expected to share a room with an adult.

Kama says:

There is a political narrative built on the idea that there are so many adults pretending to be children, whereas we believe the reverse is the case – that there are significant numbers of children in the adult system.

We are working hard to raise awareness of this problem, and we are urging the Home Office to put in place better systems to prevent so many children under the age of 18 being wrongly treated as adults. Our Age Dispute Project supports young people in London to get their age corrected so they can move on with their lives, but there is a lack of support in other areas.

In 2021, 94% of the young people we worked with were eventually accepted as children under 18. However, it can be difficult to get an unfair decision put right, and often takes months or even years. We are struggling to keep up with the numbers, and are not able to reach everyone who needs this help.

Our work is only possible because of people like you. This winter, we are calling on your support to show you believe in refugee children. Through supporting our vital work, such as our Age Disputes Project, you can ignite hope and empower hundreds of refugee children to believe in their future again.

You can read more about our winter campaign here.

You can read more on this story in the Guardian newspaper.


Support our work

Through supporting our vital work, such as our Age Disputes Project, you can ignite hope and empower hundreds of refugee children to believe in their future again.