UK Government’s new asylum bill threatens to lock up thousands of refugee children who come to the UK alone - Refugee Council and Barnardo's joint release - Refugee Council
April 24, 2023

UK Government’s new asylum bill threatens to lock up thousands of refugee children who come to the UK alone – Refugee Council and Barnardo’s joint release

The UK Government’s new asylum bill would allow thousands of refugee children who are separated from their parents to be locked up, unless MPs persuade ministers to exclude them from the legislation, according to the Refugee Council and Barnardo’s. An analysis by the charities reveals that nearly 15,000 children who have come to the UK alone having fled terror in countries such as Afghanistan and Sudan would be locked up and banned from remaining in the UK as refugees when they turn 18 in the first three years of the legislation being in place. [see note 1]

The charities have highlighted that most unaccompanied children arriving in the UK are fleeing the brutal Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and hundreds come each year from Sudan, where the long-running conflict has recently hit the headlines. [see notes 2 & 5]

The new legislation, if passed, would allow the UK Government to detain any child arriving in the UK by boat or without permission to enter and potentially remove them to the country they have fled or a third country. The Refugee Council and Barnardo’s are calling on MPs to support amendments to exclude children from this legislation.

Official figures released by the charities show that there were 5,242 asylum applications from unaccompanied children in 2022, 20% more than the previous year and accounting for 7% of total asylum applications. [see note 3]

The data shows that most children arriving in the UK come from countries with very high grant rates for refugee status, and are forced to take dangerous journeys because there are very limited options for safe routes to the UK. For example for unaccompanied children from Afghanistan the grant rate is almost 100%, for Eritrea it is 99% and for Sudan it is 95%.  Of all children who arrived alone and had their cases determined last year nearly 9 out of 10 (86%) were permitted to stay and rebuild their lives in the UK. [see note 6]

The new legislation is particularly concerning given the high number of separated children claiming asylum from Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan, Syria, and Eritrea. The lack of safe routes to the UK in the context of the wars and violence in these countries means that many children are forced to take dangerous journeys to seek safety.

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said:

“The idea of locking up children separated from their families and then kicking them out of the country when they turn 18 is deeply disturbing to most people in the UK. This is not who we are as a country.

“We know from our work with these children that they have had to flee for their lives, through no fault of their own, and are deeply traumatised, often arriving with physical wounds. We have always sought to show them compassion and provide them with the care and support they need to rebuild their lives.

“Now the government is proposing to show the world that we don’t care about these children, and to behave like countries such as Russia and Belarus who have violated international human rights commitments.”

Lynn Perry MBE, Barnardo’s CEO, said:

“In its current form, this Bill has serious implications for the safety and protection of children.

“As a charity that has a long history of supporting children who need us the most, Barnardo’s is deeply concerned that this Bill will prevent children seeking sanctuary in the UK, who have suffered trauma, exploitation and trafficking, from getting the critical help and support they so urgently need.

“Not only will it deny them the opportunity to put forward their case for asylum in the UK, but it would also disqualify some groups of children, who have been identified as victims of trafficking, from receiving protection and support. We also continue to be concerned about separated children seeking asylum being placed in hotels, with the new Bill giving the Home Office powers to accommodate children. We urge the Government to work closely with us and other partners to ensure all children who seek refuge in the UK are welcomed and protected from harm.”


According to data from UNHCR, children account for 30 per cent of the world’s population, but 41 per cent of all forcibly displaced people. Refugee organisations have urged the UK to play its part in supporting global efforts to protect people seeking safety.

The Refugee Council and Barnardo’s are urging the UK Government to maintain pathways to claim asylum, keep the strict time limit of 24 hours for the detention of unaccompanied children and 72 hours for pregnant women, and create a framework to help children to integrate and overcome past trauma rather than deporting them – including to countries they may have no connection with.

Under the provisions of the new legislation, children would be permanently locked out from getting settlement and citizenship in the UK. This includes children who are yet to be born.

The charities are urging MPs to support amendments to the asylum bill that will exclude unaccompanied children and ensure that the UK continues to uphold its international obligations to protect refugees and children seeking safety.




Notes to editors:

  1. According to the Refugee Council’s impact assessment, between 13,089 and 14,935 unaccompanied children and between 26,483 and 30,218 children with family members will have their asylum claims deemed inadmissible in the first 3 years of the implementation of the Illegal Migration Bill.
  2. Number of asylum claims from unaccompanied children by top nationalities (in alphabetical order):
Nationality 2019 2020 2021 2022
Afghanistan 437 457 637 1,686
Albania 238 105 121 781
Eritrea 597 356 407 356
Iran 545 352 1,264 600
Sudan 457 470 460 597

Source: Quarterly Immigration Statistics – Year ending December 2022 – table Asy_D01:  

  1. Number of asylum claims made by separated children, 2019 – 2022:
Year 2019 2020 2021 2022
No of asylum claims 3,775 2,773 4,382 5,242

Source: Quarterly Immigration Statistics – Year ending December 2022:

  1. UNHCR Global Trends report:
  2. UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell’s statement on the situation of children in Sudan:
  3. Grant rates – the grant rate at initial decisions for unaccompanied children was 86% last year. By nationality:
Nationality Grant rate at initial decision (2022)
Afghanistan 99.9%
Albania 29%
Eritrea 99%
Iran 74%
Sudan 95%


  1. The grant rate at initial decisions for unaccompanied children was 86% in 2022.
    Source: table asy_d02 of the Asylum and Resettlement – Applications, Initial Decisions and Resettlement tables, not including withdrawn applications.
  2. The UK was one of the founding signatories of the UN Refugee Convention in 1951. It has also signed the Global Compact on Refugees, which prioritises identifying and supporting durable solutions enabling refugees to rebuild their lives and live safely and in dignity.
  3. The UK also has obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which places responsibility on the state to act in a child’s best interest.
  4. Refugee Council press office: 020 7346 1214 or
  5. Barnardo’s press office: 020 8498 7555 or