"It's not my real age!" Hundreds of refugee children put at risk - Refugee Council
April 22, 2024

“It’s not my real age!” Hundreds of refugee children put at risk

Three of the young people we work with have been to Parliament to highlight the risks for hundreds of refugee children who are given the wrong age by the Home Office.

O, M and A are from Sudan and Eritrea, and bravely spoke out about arriving in Dover, being given the wrong age, and the risks they are still facing in adult accommodation.

These teenagers arrived in the UK alone without their families. They went to Parliament last week, to highlight what’s happening to them and to hundreds of other young refugees right now. They are 16 and 17 years old but are treated as adults, not able to attend school, and sharing unsafe accommodation with unrelated adults. The Rwanda plan is adding to their worries.

O. says: “I hope everyone gets his real age. In the hotel, it’s very difficult, when you’re underage, like me. Visiting Parliament made me feel better – they’re talking about us.”

A. says: “I hope everybody like me, they will be assessed properly.”

MPs were also concerned about the real risk that in future, other young people given the wrong age could “be inadvertently sent to Rwanda.”

"I hope everyone gets his real age."

Andrew Western, Labour MP and Officer on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees, met with the boys and spoke in Parliament about the suffering that is resulting from this horrifying situation.

This is not alarmist: it is happening.

The toll this takes on their mental health and wellbeing is huge… the highest reported risk is suicide. The second highest risk is that the children abscond and we lose all sight of them, not knowing whether they have become homeless, destitute or exploited by someone offering them accommodation elsewhere. This is not alarmist: it is happening.”

“We know that last year, there were numerous cases of children who had been detained as adults being issued with notices of intent to remove them to Rwanda on flights that ultimately never took off.”

Those seem like reasonable steps to avoid traumatised children wrongly being sent halfway across the world.

He asked the Minister to look again at legal safeguards to prevent this from happening. “Those seem like reasonable steps to avoid traumatised children wrongly being sent halfway across the world.”

He was highlighting research by the Refugee Council, the Helen Bamber Foundation and Humans for Rights Network which shows that over an 18-month period, at least 1,300 children were wrongly assessed to be adults by the Home Office.

“Those children should not face new risks to their safety when they get here, and they should not be thrown into the terrifying limbo that is the adult asylum detention system.”

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said that “hostile policies and rhetoric are having a terrible impact on many of the child refugees we work with, and now they risk falling foul of the Rwanda plan… The need for a wide ranging independent review of the treatment of unaccompanied children who come to our country seeking safety, has never been more urgent.”

The boys showed great courage in speaking out. “I feel like there’s somebody who stands for me, someone understands my problem,” said A.

But afterwards, they took the train back to Sheffield, where they are still in adult accommodation, without the proper care and support they need.