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FORCED ADULTHOOD: The Home Office’s incorrect determination of age and how this leaves child refugees at risk

Kamena Dorling
Maddie Harris, Kama Petruczenko
Our new report reveals that child refugees who come to the UK alone are facing harassment, abuse and criminalisation as a result of being wrongly treated as adults and placed in accommodation with adult strangers. 

The report, written jointly with the Refugee Council and Humans for Rights Network, found that at least 1,300 refugee children were placed in unsupervised adult accommodation and detention in an 18-month period (January 2022 to June 2023), after being wrongly age assessed on arrival in the UK. 

The report shows that children as young as 14 have been forced to share rooms with unrelated adults, with no safeguards in place. It includes direct accounts from children who felt unsafe, scared, and traumatised by their experiences. Some children faced harassment, abuse, and mental health crises. 

The report also includes a number of cases where children wrongly treated as adults were charged with immigration offences under the Nationality and Borders Act, with 14 spending periods of time in custody with adults in adult prisons. 

HBF obtained new data through Freedom of Information requests from local authorities in England, asking how many individuals claiming to be children were referred to them after being deemed adults by the Home Office. In responses from 69 local authorities covering the period January to June 2023, over 1,000 referrals were received of children placed in adult asylum housing and detention. Of the 847 cases where decisions had been made, 57% (485 children) were found to be under 18 by the local authority and removed from unsafe facilities. This builds on 2022 data, confirming that over an 18-month period, at least 1,300 child refugees were failed by the Home Office’s flawed age assessment process and suffered harm. The real numbers are likely to be much higher as data was not received from all local authorities. 

In the same 18-month period (from January 2022 to June 2023), over 800 safeguarding episodes were recorded by Humans for Rights Network, where the organisation had strong reasons to believe that a child was sharing accommodation with an unrelated adult. The majority of these cases have either been accepted as children by local authorities or are in the process of trying to have their age accepted. The Refugee Council’s Age Dispute Project assisted 185 children who had initially been determined to be adults, with 98 of them subsequently taken into local authority care from an unsafe adult setting, some pending further assessment. 

The report calls on the Home Office to only dispute a child's claimed age in exceptional circumstances, and to routinely notify local authorities whenever a potential child has been determined by them to be an adult. It also calls for full statistics on age disputes to be published, showing the number of children who are taken into care from the adult asylum system. The government currently refuses to disclose this data. 

To read the full report click on the arrow below. 

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