This is part of our blog series about the journey taken and the barriers faced by children and young people who arrive alone in the UK to seek asylum. To help us continue our work with those young people, please support our Crowdfunder campaign.

Children arrive in the UK looking for safety and security; they hope to make friends and access education; and they hope for compassion and understanding from the adults put in charge of caring for them. But the very least they can ask – a basic requirement – is that they are believed and treated as children, not accused of lying about their age. Unfortunately that’s just what many face – yet another injustice on top of what they have already endured.

I didn’t leave my family and my country to come here to lie. I came here because I’ve got war in my country. My life was in danger… I want to be safe. I want to finish my studies.

(Quotes taken from the Young People’s Guide to Age Assessments launch event).

GMIAU supports children who have to go through the age dispute process. Often, people arriving in the UK don’t have documentation to prove their age. They may understandably have lost it on their way here, or they may never have had it. If a child is judged to be an adult by the Home Office or a local authority, it changes everything for them. They can’t access education and they might be housed with adults, rather than with others their own age.

In the process of disputing this decision children are interrogated about their story, made to feel untrustworthy and disbelieved. It can be a deeply upsetting experience, and those who have been through it describe being forced to relive the trauma they’ve already undergone:

For three days, they kept asking me about my past. My family, my dad, my mum, my siblings. When I remember them, I get stressed.

That’s where GMIAU comes in. We represent individual children and we’re there with them every step of the way, with both legal and personal support. And we’re also helping young people who have been through it fight to make the process easier for others.

In September 2020 we launched our Young People’s Guides to the Age Assessment Process. The young people in our All4One youth group worked together to produce a guide for people going through an age dispute, explaining what to expect and offering advice and reassurance. And they wrote three more guides – one for interpreters, one for social workers, and one for people acting as “appropriate adults” – explaining how the adults involved in an age assessment can best support them, and expressing how it feels for the person going through it.

It can feel awful at the time and sometimes like you are being treated like a criminal, but other people have been through this, felt like this and survived it.

GMIAU and our All4One group are supporting children and young people to tell their own stories, helping them to come together with others who have been through similar things, and empowering them to speak out and call for change.

You can help to fund this work by supporting our Crowdfunder. Find out more here.