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News: 'Landing in Kent': Reporting on the experiences of unaccompanied children arriving in the UK

16 February 2011

Landing in Kent Report

By Adrian Matthews, Senior Policy Development Officer - Asylum

In our last issue we described our visit to the Millbank Assessment and Reception Centre for 16- and 17-year-old unaccompanied asylum-seekers arriving in Kent. Millbank does an excellent job, and the report reflects this.

Our full report on the visit, Landing in Kent: The experience of unaccompanied children arriving in the UK, was published on 10 February. Based on what these specific young people told us of their experiences, it proposes improvements to the treatment of unaccompanied young people seeking asylum on a national scale.

Developing and advising policy makers on a wider view from the particular situations in which we meet young people, is part of the Commissioner's statutory remit. The report's recommendations build on several years' work by the Office of the Children's Commissioner on the way the country deals with asylum-seeking children.

Observations and recommendations

The majority of the report's recommendations are directed towards the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and the Immigration Service. In general the level of care provided by Kent County Council was excellent. You can read our recommendations in full in the report, while some key concerns are summarised below.

  • Several young people told us about experiences of maltreatment, and refusals to believe their stated age, by other European countries' authorities. The report recommends that the Government reviews the practice of returning children to the country in which they were first fingerprinted rather than dealing with their asylum claim here.
  • Children told us that although the welcome they received was kinder than that in many other countries they had passed through, they did not always receive information in their own language on arrival here about what would happen to them next. Many were anxious about the possibility of being sent straight back to Europe. To avoid such distress for already vulnerable children and young people, we recommend that UKBA ensures telephone interpreters are always used by immigration officers to obtain personal details, and to enable them to provide basic information to the young people about what will happen following their arrival in the UK.
  • Some children had been through lengthy immigration interviews about their departure, their journey, and the reasons for leaving their home country, without the benefit of having a 'responsible adult' present, or receiving legal advice. We recommend UKBA ensures children are not interviewed about matters other than their basic personal details without an appropriate adult being present.
  • Some young people reported having had their phones confiscated for up to two months, and so losing all of their contact information. We know that since our visit Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons has insisted that this practice stops, and phones should now be returned. We support the development of this new practice, so that young people can maintain contact with friends and family.
  • The young Afghans we met had heard about a proposed policy to return 16- and 17-year-olds to Kabul. They were scared that this would happen to them. While we recognise that the reasons for thinking about this policy centre on a wish to dissuade children from setting out on an arduous and often dangerous journey to come here in the first place, we think the proposal is likely to have a number of unintended consequences which may worsen outcomes for these young people. We therefore ask that the Government continues to talk to organisations working with asylum seekers from Afghanistan about this proposal, and that it reconsiders these plans unless it is proven to be safe and in their best interests to return them.

We continue working with Government to discuss how these, and the other recommendations made in the report, can be realised. We will report on any changes to policy and practice that result from them.

Children's rights

At the core of our work is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to which the UK is a signatory.

The UNCRC articles directly relevant to asylum are:

  • Article 3 - (best interests of the child) - the best interests of the child must be a top priority in all actions concerning children.
  • Article 12 - (respect for the views of the child) - every child has the right to say what they think in all matters affecting them, and to have their views taken seriously.
  • Article 22 - (refugee children) - children seeking asylum have the same rights as a child who is resident in the UK, and where they are not able to be reunited with parents, they should be given state protection.
  • Article 27 - (adequate standard of living) - children have a right to a standard of living that is good enough to meet their physical and mental needs.
  • Article 28 - (right to education) - every child has the right to an education.

You can view a summary of the UNCRC articles here, provided by UNICEF.  

For more information

You can read Maggie Atkinson's speech launching the report at the Refugee Council's SMILE conference on 10 February here, and see our press release here.

To find out more about our work in the area of asylum, contact Adrian Matthews, Senior Policy Development Officer - Asylum.