More than 1,000 child refugees arriving alone in the UK are being wrongly classified as adults by the Home Office leaving them in unsupervised adult accommodation and vulnerable to abuse, harassment, and exploitation.
The report ‘Forced Adulthood,’ authored jointly by the Refugee Council, the Helen Bamber Foundation, and the Humans for Rights Network, delves into the realities faced by child refugees arriving in the UK alone.
Over an 18-month period from January 2022 to June 2023, a minimum of 1,300 children were placed in adult accommodation and detention due to flawed age assessments by the Home Office. During the first half of 2023, nearly 500 children found themselves in adult surroundings, where some as young as 14 were forced to share rooms with unrelated adults, lacking the safeguards to protect them from harassment, abuse, and mental health crises.
In the same 18-month period, the Humans for Rights Network recorded over 800 safeguarding episodes, highlighting situations where children shared accommodation with unrelated adults. At the same time, the Refugee Council’s Age Dispute Project assisted 185 children initially deemed adults, with 98 taken into local authority care from unsafe adult surroundings.
Further consequences of these flawed age assessments are also that children have wrongly been charged with immigration offenses under the Nationality and Borders Act, spending time in custody with adults in adult prisons.
Among this reality, Passali, a 16-year-old from Afghanistan, shared his account in the report: ‘They gave me a paper, and my age was incorrect…We suffer from depression and anxiety. Every day we are waiting … we hope they will move us.’
Commenting on the findings of the report, Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, voiced his concern: ‘It is an alarming child protection failure, and the Government must take urgent action so every child is kept safe.’
Maddie Harris, Director of Humans for Rights Network, also commented to highlight the consequences of flawed decision-making: ‘We have assisted hundreds of children who have been wrongly placed in adult asylum hotels and adult prisons. These children are terrified and continue to be profoundly affected by this experience of wrongful criminalization.’
The report ‘Forced Adulthood’ has issued a compelling call for the Home Office to only dispute a child’s claimed age in exceptional circumstances and urged that local authorities should be informed when potential children are assessed as adults. Furthermore, it demands the publication of complete statistics on age disputes, emphasizing the government’s refusal to disclose this data.