Asylum-seeking children ‘denied basic rights’

Asylum-seeking children are denied medical attention, rest and food until they have completed “oppressive and unlawful” interviews with the UK Border Agency in Dover, a damning new report has found.

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) said the interviews established children’s welfare needs before their transfer to social services.

But the report, by Refugee and Migrant Justice (RMJ), found “no evidence this intention was put into practice” and revealed that even injured children were detained and interviewed by UK officials without being offered medical care.

The RMJ study examined the cases of about 20 children who had arrived in Dover.

RMJ chief executive Caroline Slocock said: “Unaccompanied children coming into Dover arrive hungry, cold and often ill, having travelled for months in situations of great danger, fleeing war-torn countries like Afghanistan in order to find safety in the UK.

“Their welcome is an interview by the UKBA that often puts welfare at risk and is used to gather information which is later used against them. Such interviews, carried out without any independent adult or legal representative presentwould be entirely unacceptable anywhere else in Britain.”

Slocock claimed the treatment breached 2009 legislation which places a duty on the UK Border Agency to ensure children’s welfare is safeguarded. RMJ has applied for a judicial review of the lawfulness of the interviews.

“[The UKBA] says the interviews are intended to help protect children but, on the ground, unacceptable treatment continues,” Slocock said. “We are taking this issue to the courts to decide but, in the meantime, we believe the interviews should stop.”

One child, whose experience was detailed in the report, said: “I told [the interviewer] I was in a lot of pain and had injuries from a bomb on my leg…They kept going on with the interview. They didn’t stop.”

Hugh Ind, the UKBA’s strategic director for protection, said: “The UKBA does not deny children basic needs. We have a statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are in the UK and we take this duty very seriously.

“To ascertain a child’s welfare we need to speak to them. Therefore, an initial interview is necessary. We will continue to ensure that vulnerable children are referred to child welfare agencies or the police as soon as possible.”

Ind said UKBA staff and interpreters had clear guidance on how to conduct interviews and comply with a code of conduct.

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