Lone asylum children denied full support as disputes over age rise

Rising numbers of unaccompanied children seeking asylum are
having their ages disputed by the Home Office, resulting in them
being treated as adults, the Refugee Council has told Community
Care, writes Craig Kenny.

According to the charity’s estimates, about half of those
aged under-18 seeking asylum are now being challenged about their
In one case a 16-year-old boy had to sleep rough because the Home
Office refused to accept his country-of-origin’s identity
card as proof of his age.

Official figures suggest that the numbers of unaccompanied minors
seeking asylum halved last year to 3,180 applications, compared
with 6,200 in 2002. This trend has continued, with just 1,310 lone
children officially applying for asylum in the first six months of
this year.

The Refugee Council said some of this could be down to the Home
Office’s increasing tendency to dispute a child’s age.
It warned that the practice was “enormously harmful and
potentially very damaging for children who will already have been
through traumatic experiences”.

However, the Home Office denied the charity’s claim that
applications from age-disputed children were not included in the
statistics for unaccompanied minors, even when they were finally
proven to be the age they said they were on arrival.

Peter Gilroy, Association of Directors of Social Services
spokesperson on unaccompanied children seeking asylum and director
of social services at Kent, said social services departments were
still struggling to meet the costs incurred by lone children
seeking asylum, despite falling numbers.

He said costs had risen following the High Court ruling in August
2003 that councils had a duty to provide care and support for
unaccompanied minors until they were 21, and in some cases 24, in
line with duties to care leavers.

The funding formula also pays councils per asylum seeker, Gilroy
added, thereby penalising councils such as Kent with high overhead
costs for its assessment units.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said age disputes could arise
from differing calendars or ways of recording age. In some cases,
traffickers presented young people as older or younger to avoid
immigration controls or social services checks.

He said it was important that resources were maximised to assist
those under the age of 18 who are perceived as generally being more
vulnerable than adult asylum seekers, and added that the Home
Office was working with local authorities on a protocol for
assessing the age of children.

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