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In 2000 2,735 unaccompanied children applied for asylum in the UK the majority of whom came from Yugoslavia (665). A recent report entitled `Separated Children in the UK` said that although the UK was better than many of its Western European counterparts it was still lacking in many respects, primarily that its funding was almost `lottery` like and many children, some as young as 15 were left to fend for themselves at Bed and Breakfast accommodation. Many children are also not granted refugee status, only given exceptional right to remain. This gives them insecurity as they always have fear of deportation upon reaching adulthood.
Five Case Studies
In 1997 a 12-year-old Kenyan boy stowed in the landing gear of a plane and was crushed when the wheel retracted. His body was found after the plane landed at Gatwick airport.
Cecile is from an African country and the eldest in her family. Her mother had been involved in a political group fighting on behalf of women and marginalized people. Her father belonged to a different political party and when the government began to target members of her mother's political group he left his family since he was afraid he would lose his social position due to the activities of his wife. After that soldiers came to her house often. They beat Cecile, her mother and sisters and raped them all. Her younger sister became very ill afterwards. After one of these incidents Cecile's mother decided to send her away. Here in the UK she is very distressed thinking of her family and reliving scenes of violence and rape. She is terrified of being attacked here in the UK and fearful of sleeping. She has been unable to tell her story to her lawyer.
The child and confused travel documents
"A child from West Africa aged 16 was told by compatriots that he needed to pay a solicitor in order to claim asylum. So instead of applying for asylum he started to work to save the money and was eventually arrested when he applied for a NI number. The police duty solicitor told him he had a right to legal aid. He was first interviewed by immigration and then by a doctor at the detention centre. He told both of them his true age although at the first interview he complained that the interpreter was not doing his job correctly. He was assigned a volunteer visitor and she referred him to the Panel of Advisers. Immigration claimed not to know he was under 18 until contacted by the boy's solicitor. This means that neither the interpreter at the first interview nor the doctor had passed on information about his age. The Panel Adviser discovered that the solicitor had a valid birth certificate and had not shown it to Immigration. Once this was presented and validated the boy was released into the care of social services. He had been detained for nearly seven weeks."
Child C's legal wrangle
"Child C arrived in the UK from Africa. He spoke some English, but he was not literate in any language. Child C was referred to the Children's Panel by a member of the Charity BID. He was being held at Haslar Detention Centre but was transferred from there to Campsfield because BID had notified Immigration that they were holding a possible minor. I visited Child C and found he was frightened, confused and largely incoherent. He appeared very young one moment and very mature the next. I got his agreement to contact Social Services, his Solicitor and Immigration, on his behalf. Child C had been interviewed as an adult and his Solicitor was not present at the interview. Child C phoned me to say that he was to have another 'interview'. I suspected that this would be the reading of a refusal letter and explained this. I also explained that I could not go to the interview as I had another appointment, but I rang the Solicitor to check that he would be sending a representative. The representative did not attend and Child C told me that the Immigration officer did not read the letter to him, but simply handed it over and told him to sign at the bottom. As Child C is illiterate, he had no idea what was in the letter…………..Child C was released after 10 weeks of detention. The Appeal Hearing was fixed and the RLC Representative asked for a 'for mention' hearing to deal with the issue of age before the main Appeal Hearing. During the period before his Appeal Hearing, Child C absconded from the hostel. He was missing for a week and it took some time to track him down. When we eventually persuaded him to return to the hostel, he was obviously terrified as to what would happen at the Appeal Hearing. We had a message from the court to say that there was no need to attend tomorrow as his age has now been accepted."
The Afghani children in Australia
In July 2002 two brothers sought refuge in the British consulate in Melbourne, Australia. The boys aged 12 and 13 had escaped during a mass breakout from the Woomera detention centre, and travelled almost 600 miles to Melbourne. The consulate however rejected the plea for help and the children were handed over to the Australian authorities. Michael O'Brien, the Foreign Office minister, defending the consulate decision, expressed sympathy for the boys but insisted: "Our international obligations were to hand the applicants back to the Australian authorities who under international law have the responsibility to consider applications for asylum. It is not our responsibility to take applications for asylum to Australia or, indeed, in other countries."
Neil Durkin, a spokesman for the human rights organisation Amnesty, claimed that consulates did have discretion and that the decision had been made too hastily: "This flies in the face of a normal humanitarian response." Disputing that the Foreign Office was bound by the 1951 law, he said this was superseded by an 1989 UN convention that placed an obligation on signatories to safeguard the primary rights of children.
(Sources: Panel of Advisers, Refugee Council