Refugee & Migrant Justice report finds UKBA treatment of children “inhumane and unlawful”

Refugee and Migrant Justice, a charity that provides legal advice and support to asylum-seekers and other vulnerable migrants in the UK, today issued a report  Safe at Last. Children on the front line of UK Border Control which found consistent evidence of the government’s failure to abide by its safeguarding duties under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009.

RMJ investigated the treatment of over 30 young unaccompanied minors who have been detained at the Port of Dover as “illegal entrants” – all of whom were subject to lengthy and improper interviews, often without access to urgently needed medical treatment or the presence of a responsible adult. Information gleaned from these interviews when the interviewee is exhausted, highly stressed and often in physical pain is frequently used to undermine the credibility of the young person for the purposes of denying their asylum claim. Contrary to UKBA statements there is no evidence that such interviews are held in order to secure the welfare of the child but rather that such children are made to endure the harsh detention and immigration control procedures to which adult suspected illegal entrants are subject. A typical case cited by the RMJ report is that of Ali.

Ali was 14 when he arrived in the UK. He had a very painful bladder condition and the UK Border Agency interviewed him without offering him medical care:

When I arrived in the UK I was arrested and handcuffed. I think the police arrested me. I was feeling very ill and I was tired and hungry. I told the police officers that I was tired and needed to sleep but they said I could not. I was interviewed that night and I don’t know what time it was, maybe 11pm or midnight. I was asked how old I was and I told them I was 13. During the interview I said I felt ill. I had a pain in my genital area and I could not hold my bladder. I told the officers this, but they did not do anything. They just wrote something down and asked the next question. I found it difficult to concentrate as my mind was on this pain. I was also very hungry because I had not eaten anything. I didn’t feel myself. I was too scared to say anything, I was scared that I would be sent back or maybe locked up. I didn’t have anybody there to explain what the interview was about. I can’t even say how long the interview lasted.

About five minutes after the interview finished I was given the opportunity to eat some food but then they locked me up for the night. They did not explain why. It was very cold. I had a short-sleeved t-shirt on. The floor was like concrete and it was freezing. I wasn’t given a blanket or anything for my arms. I didn’t sleep at all. A doctor did not come to see me.

Refugee and Migrant Justice is currently seeking a judicial review of the lawfulness of the UKBA’s detention and illegal entrant interview practices in relation to unaccompanied minors. Because the legal process can be lengthy time consuming, RMJ has called on the the UK Border Agency to discontinue immediately its policy of interviewing children before safeguarding their welfare. It further recommends that

  • UK authorities, including the police, refer children to the children’s services department of the relevant local authority as soon as a child becomes known to them, to ensure their welfare needs are met
  • Children are offered appropriate medical treatment, rest and food immediately after being brought into contact with the UK authorities
  • Interviews only take place after children have recovered from their journey, are well, and have had access to relevant services
  • Children are  given access to legal representation prior to and throughout any interview with the UK Border Agency.
  • The practice of interviewing children alone, by an untrained interviewer and without an independent adult and legal representative being present is stopped.
  • The UK Border Agency recruits a wider range of qualified interpreters to ensure children are safeguarded and correctly understood, as well as understanding the questions put to them. These interpreters should be trained to work with children and have Criminal Records Bureau clearance.
  • The UK Border Agency  urgently publishes its Asylum Policy Instructions on how to assess asylum claims of unaccompanied asylum seeking children. This guidance has been missing for a number of years and without clear guidance to staff on the assessment of asylum claims for children serious problems such as those documented in this report will continue.

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