Report finds official distrust meaning young asylum seekers ‘left in limbo’

11 Aug 2011: MANY young asylum seekers in Wales are being left “in limbo” because their age is disputed by the agencies meant to be helping them, according to a critical report.

The Welsh Refugee Council’s (WRC) report, Young Lives In Limbo, claims there is a culture of disbelief in the authorities dealing with asylum seekers whose age is under question.

The WRC says that age assessment policy and practice is “inadequate and inconsistent” resulting in children being “accommodated with much older adults, detained in immigration removal centres, and subjected to forced removal to countries such as Afghanistan”.

Last night, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Keith Towler, described the report as “disappointing but not surprising”.

However, the UK Border Agency (UKBA), one of the bodies criticised by the WRC, said it did not accept that a culture of disbelief exists within its organisation.

Young Lives In Limbo suggests children and young people have “neither been given suffic- ient information concerning the age assessment process, nor the opportunity to have their views taken into consideration”.

It goes on: “Many have missed out on the vital education to which they are entitled while others have experienced serious mental health issues as a result of the process.

“Some have also been identified as victims of human trafficking. The treatment of age- disputed young people in Wales indicates that many separated children have been denied the protection, provision and participation rights guaranteed to them by Welsh and UK government obligations under the UNCRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child).”

Michael Lewis, chief executive of the WRC, said the age assessment process needs to be “significantly improved as a matter of urgency”.

“It seems to me that when we get it wrong we allow children and young people to be abused and damaged by a process.

“Wales is quite rightly proud of the protection it provides to the most vulnerable. We all need to do more to ensure that we in Wales can develop a system which we are all proud to endorse and which does not exacerbate a difficult and challenging situation.”

The report calls on the Welsh Government to work with the UK Government to ensure children in Wales subject to the asylum process have their rights under the UNCRC fulfilled.

It also wants local authorities to ensure arrangements to safeguard and promote the best interests of children seeking asylum are embedded throughout the age assessment process.

Mr Towler said: “It seems that the culture of disbelief from practitioners, coupled with insufficient information given to children and young people, is resulting in inadequate and inconsistent practice.”

A UK Border Agency spokesman said: “The welfare of children within our immigration system is essential, which is why age assessments are carried out independently by social workers with expert knowledge.

“All of our front-line staff receive specialist training to ensure that the welfare of the child is considered at every stage.”

A Welsh Government spokesman said the recommendations would be considered.

He said: “As a government, we are committed to treating refugees and asylum seekers with dignity and respect. Last month the Equalities Minister, Jane Hutt, launched our new Refugee Integration Strategy, which aims to improve relationships between refugees and communities and help them integrate into Welsh life.

“Our aim is to enable them to rebuild their lives in Wales, and to provide the support to help them make a substantial contribution to Welsh life and culture.”

The Welsh Local Government Association was unable to comment yesterday.
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see also: Advocacy and Children in the Asylum System article published in Children in Wales Journal

August 5, 2011

Advocacy and children in the asylum system

The Welsh Governments commitment to universal advocacy is a welcome commitment to the importance of ensuring that all children in Wales have the opportunity ‘to speak out’ and ‘be heard’. However, as the cuts bite it is more important than ever to ensure that universal provision does not discriminate against the most vulnerable members of society, such as children in the asylum process.

The Welsh Refugee Council’s experience is that ‘separated children’ and ‘children in families’ in the asylum process often remain unseen, unheard and hidden  outside of society’s protective mechanisms, and at risk of significant harm. This is due to a complex interplay of factors that face children in the asylum process: including, pre and post flight trauma, age- blindness, cultural and institutional pre-conceptions, racism, shared housing with unknown individuals, isolation, poverty, exploitation and safeguarding risks from ‘accepted’ cultural practices. Alongside a reported failure to respond to the situation facing children seeking asylum in Wales, which  is driven in part by a much-reported ‘culture of disbelief’, (ECPAT, 2009, Save the Children, 2007) within both the UKBA and Social Services Departments .

However, children’s failure to access Social Services has also resulted in barriers to specialist advocacy, as the ability to access Social Services brings with it the added benefit of access to ‘specialist integrated advocacy services’. Whilst,  the reality of open-access advocacy is that it is unable to deliver a service to children who speak in languages other than English or Welsh, placing a barrier to advocacy provision that prevents asylum seeking children from claiming their UNCRC participation rights.

The Welsh Refugee Council believes that the vulnerability of asylum seeking children needs to be recognised and addressed by Advocacy Providers, Local Authorities and Welsh Government as a matter of urgency- to avoid vulnerable children falling through institutional gaps in protection. Different cultures bring with them different concepts about children and how they should be treated, thus leaving children at significant risk of harm, which is not always recognised. However, child safeguarding remains everybody’s responsibility and cultural differences should never be used as a barrier to safeguarding intervention(s).

In Wales, progress to the realization of Children’s Rights has been driven by findings from Clwyd and Waterhouse Reports, which stated that where children’s voices went unheard, children were unable to contribute to their own protection and well-being. It is therefore essential that the Welsh Government ensure that asylum seeking children and other vulnerable groups such as potential victims of trafficking and migrant children are able to be heard and have a voice in the same way as any other child in Wales.


And take actions to address their needs within WAG’s Children’s Scheme under the Rights of Children and Young People (UNCRC) Measure, 2011.

The Welsh Refugee Council also  recommends:

1. That basic awareness training on children in the asylum process and the rights and entitlements of refugee and asylum seeking children in Wales, and child trafficking should be included as a part of the core curriculum for all advocates studying for the National Advocacy Qualification, Wales. This is essential as asylum seeking and trafficked children could arrive at any time and in any area in Wales, and Advocates should – as a bare minimum- be able to give basic signposting information.

2. All Advocacy Providers should have access to experienced child centred interpreters / advocates to enable all children in Wales to access their services

3. All Advocacy Providers should undertake cultural awareness training and be made aware that in matters of child protection, cultural practices such as FGM, and Honour Based Violence can never be tolerated.

The Welsh Refugee Council has twenty years experience working with refugees, asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers. It provides confidential and independent advice services across Wales, advocates for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, supports capacity building for refugee community organisations, and promotes good community relations. Its vision is to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers are safe and that they get the support they need to rebuild their lives in Wales.

The Children’s Unit at the Welsh Refugee Council provides a range of child-centred services for asylum seeking and refugee children throughout Wales, including advocacy services for children and young people whose age is disputed, policy advice, guidance and training, and specialist play sessions.