Afran is 17 years old. He is Kurdish, and arrived in the UK this year after a month-long journey from Iran. Having crossed the Channel in a small boat, arriving in Dover wet, freezing and sick, he hoped to be treated with compassion. Any one of us would hope that Afran would receive the care and support that every child in this country is entitled to. But from the moment he arrived, he was faced with hostility.
Home Office officials interviewed Afran and told him they did not believe he was a child. “It was really unpleasant. Really not nice. They were saying bad words and not believing my age. They were laughing at me, saying you are lying.” Their disbelief meant that he was sent to an adult asylum hotel, where he had to live with adults for two weeks, terrified. Only when he managed to contact GMIAU did he receive support: we referred him to the local authority, who accepted that he was a child and took him into their care.
This is a pattern we are seeing far too often. The Home Office are systematically carrying out short, inadequate age assessments and making the wrong decision as to a child’s age. Children are being sent to adult accommodation, and sometimes even detention centres, at a rate of hundreds. The Helen Bamber Foundation recently found that in just three months between January and March 2022, 150 children had been sent to adult accommodation or detention. At GMIAU we have seen this national trend reflected in the number of referrals we have received about poor Home Office assessments.
This is not acceptable. Children are consistently being put at risk by being placed in adult accommodation with no safeguarding, having to navigate a new system, country and language alone to put this mistake right. It is becoming the norm for children to have their age investigated more than once, a process which children tell us is distressing and anxiety-inducing. And the hostility of the UK government towards adults seeking safety mean that a child wrongly deemed an adult is in danger of being subjected to the cruelties of the Anti-Refugee Laws.
We spoke to Afran about how frightening and isolating the experience of having his age disbelieved was. But it was not the end of the horrors he would experience. Weeks later, despite his age being accepted by his local authority, he received a letter from the Home Office informing him that he would be removed to Rwanda. GMIAU is currently representing Afran to have this notice cancelled. It is clear that the alarms raised by charities earlier this year that children were at risk of being sent to Rwanda have not been heeded. Afran is frightened and distressed. His story shows how far the government is failing in its duties to safeguard children and protect their best interests.
In our report we offer detailed recommendations for the significant culture change we believe must happen in the Home Office. These catastrophic errors must stop and an investigation must take place into why hundreds of children are being wrongly treated as adults.
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