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Disbelieved and denied: Children seeking asylum wrongly treated as adults by the Home Office

Kamena Dorling
Maddie Harris
A new briefing from HBF, Asylum Aid and Humans for Rights Network reveals that the Home Office is incorrectly treating hundreds of children seeking asylum as adults, based on a  short visual assessment on arrival in the UK, and placing them alone and at significant risk in unsupervised accommodation and in immigration detention.
  • New figures show that last year over 1,300 referrals were made to local authority children’s services departments of young people who had been sent to adult asylum accommodation/ immigration detention. 
  • Of those, two thirds were found to actually be children – meaning over 850 children had been wrongly put into the adult asylum system with no support or protection.
  • Many of these children, some as young as 14, have been forced to share rooms with adults. 
  • These figures show that the government’s claims that half of ‘age disputes’ are adults “posing as children”, used to justify the introduction of detention of unaccompanied children and measures to force children to undergo invasive scientific procedures in the Illegal Migration Bill, are false.

Abdul, aged 16, arrived by small boat in January 2023. Exhausted after seven hours at sea, he was not offered medical care and waited in a cold marquee for the ‘age interview’. This consisted of four immigration officials asking, without an interpreter, for Abdul and others to write their age on a piece of paper whilst in a line. No other questions were asked, and he did not know he had been given a date of birth making him 23 until he arrived at a large asylum hotel. Upon arrival at the hotel, he told a security guard who spoke his native language that he was under 18, but the guard  informed Abdul that he had been registered by the Home Office as an adult. No referral to children’s services was made by hotel staff and it was a month before Abdul was able to contact the organisation Humans for Rights Network for support. Eventually Abdul was visited by social workers who agreed, after further assessment, that he was 16. He was finally taken into care after three months spent in two different hotels with unrelated adults

Every day, charities see cases like these where children are left isolated, alone and at risk of abuse, with no information about how they can challenge the Home Office’s arbitrary decision on their age and reliant on the support of NGOs to ensure they receive the support and protection they need. This briefing highlights the urgent need for the government to address the poor decision making that is taking place at the border and to put in place safeguards so that children do not continue to be put at risk.