Rising Numbers Of Lone Children Seeking Asylum In The UK Are Missing Out On Legal Support

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The Law Of... finding a place to call home

According to the BBC, councils in the UK have experienced a drastic increase of 62% in the number of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the UK this year. A refugee charity has also found that a serious lack of legal advice available to these children places even more obstacles in their path to being granted asylum.

The Law Of... finding a place to call home

A large proportion of this percentage is made up by boys aged 16-17 who have arrived in the UK from countries all over the world, including conflict-filled locations such as Afghanistan.

Statistics have also shown that Kent currently has the highest number of lone children seeking asylum in the UK – due to the fact that many asylum-seeking children arrive in the UK through the port of Dover, which is located in Kent.

Leaving The Past Behind

Some of these children have risked their lives to come to the UK, leaving behind their families and taking what can be a dangerous and frightening journey, in search of protection.

Research published by the British Refugee Council shows that 1,319 applications have been made in 2016 so far by unaccompanied children seeking asylum. Data from 2015 also shows that there were 3,043 asylum applications made by lone children under the age of 18 in the UK.

Seeking Asylum In The UK

The Refugee Council's policy manager, Judith Dennis, revealed that out of all the countries in Europe, the UK received around 3% of asylum claims made by unaccompanied children. She also added that more and more children are being "forced to flee their countries" as some of their home countries have become so unsafe that they have no choice but to find refuge elsewhere.

As these children also come to the UK without many – if any – of their possessions or legal documentation, it's often very hard for their date of birth to be verified. They sometimes travel with fraudulent documentation that can be expensive to obtain. On top of this, children who come to the UK find it difficult to make sense of the system put in place for asylum seekers if they are not given the legal support that they desperately need.

Do Asylum-Seeking Children Have Any Legal Rights?

Children who claim asylum in the UK are the legal responsibility of the local authority in which they are found. The Home Office provides local authorities with funding to support these children, who are either placed in foster care or semi-independent living – this means that they share a house with other young people who are claiming asylum in the UK.

As of July 2016, the government launched a new transfer scheme whereby a local authority could request that an asylum-seeking child under their care could be transferred to another local authority.

The purpose of the scheme – which is part of the Immigration Act 2016 – is to create a more even distribution of caring responsibilities for local authorities around the UK.

"Whilst this scheme might help authorities allocate their resources more fairly and alleviate some the financial pressure placed on them, the success of the scheme is yet to be determined", Emma comments.

"The government will have to ensure that they prioritise the needs of the children and offer them the right support, rather than just focusing on numbers alone."

"It's also wise for local authorities to review their current practices, and evaluate whether they need to modify them or adopt new, more effective systems that meet the needs of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Leeds City Council, for example, is putting a new strategy in place for managing the needs of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who are expected to arrive in Leeds soon."

In light of the current situation, the Home Office has increased the funding available to cover the costs of care for unaccompanied children.

Emma comments:

"Any unaccompanied child who comes to the UK seeking asylum should be given appropriate advice and support and is eligible to receive legal aid."

"The significant cuts made to legal aid in 2013 is one of the reasons why there's a major lack of support available for these children. The success of their cases often hinges on them receiving the right guidance from a legal specialist. Asylum law is complicated, and children cannot be expected to navigate their way through such a complex system on their own, even more so when the English language may not be their first language."

"We work with clients from all walks of life, including those seeking asylum in the UK. Asylum seekers come to the UK in the hopes of escaping from war or persecution, and often arrive in an incredibly vulnerable state. They need to be given fair access to legal support and protection."

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