Charities join forces to call for fairer asylum system for refugee children

Published on
20 June 2023
  • Barnardo’s publishes blueprint to protect displaced children seeking refuge in the UK
  • Children reveal how they have been mistaken as adults, detained, placed in unsuitable accommodation and fear deportation

Children’s and refugee charities have joined forces to call on the Government to introduce a fairer asylum system that protects and welcomes all children forced to leave their home and seek refuge in the UK.

Almost a fifth (18%) of people applying for asylum in the UK last year were under 18*: some travelling with families, while others had been separated from loved ones. Some children have been the victims of torture, violence, abuse or trafficking. Understandably, they have overwhelming feelings of loss, separation or survivor’s guilt.

Yet, a growing backlog of asylum claims, lack of access to sufficient support and an inconsistent application of immigration policies adds to the trauma, seriously impacting their mental health, making integration into our society hard. Children face difficulties with settling into school, racism and language barriers.

Solutions are desperately needed to make the asylum system work for children regardless of their immigration status, nationality or route to entry into the UK and help them recover from any trauma they have experienced.

Children’s charity Barnardo’s has today published a new report ‘A Warm Welcome’ containing recommendations for the Government, as well as voluntary groups and local communities to improve the future prospects for children who come to the UK seeking safety. The report is supported by a coalition of charities working to support child refugees including The Refugee Council, Save the Children, Action for Children, the Children’s Society and NSPCC.** It urges the Government to:

  1. Develop a strategic plan for welcoming all displaced children to the UK.
  2. Roll out local welcoming hubs for displaced families.
  3. Allow all children arriving in the UK means of obtaining safety with their families.
  4. Increase specialist foster care for separated children in the UK.
  5. Assign all separated children arriving in the UK a guardian.

Once a child has been welcomed, they require a safe and loving home. They also need protection from violence, abuse and discrimination. For a child to reach their full potential, they need a proper welcome at school and for their physical and mental health needs to be met. These steps will allow local government to properly plan for their arrival and ensure they are offered the chance to integrate, thrive in school and develop skills they can give back to society.

Barnardo’s is concerned that the current fear of deportation could be used by exploiters as another way of keeping children and young people in their control.

Experiences of displaced children include: 

  • The Refugee Council supported a 17-year-old boy who had fled Iran and arrived in Dover by a small boat. He was processed as an adult before being transferred to an Immigration Removal Centre several days later. He spent a month in detention before he was supported by the Refugee Council. Following a Merton-compliant age assessment, his claimed age as a 17-year-old child was definitively accepted.
  •  One boy who arrived from Eritrea aged 16 now feels part of a family thanks to a Barnardo’s foster carer. He said: “The journey was difficult; I was beaten, and someone stamped on my head and [I] got a perforated ear drum. Sometimes I could eat once or not at all in a day. When I got to the UK, I lived in a hostel but then moved to a foster carer, I was not told I was going to be moving. I had no time to prepare, and I was separated from my friends. When I come here [to the foster carer] I learn a lot. She helped me with the doctor and got me a bus pass. She treats me like her son. She is always happy and never gets upset with me even if I make a mistake.”
  •  Barnardo’s practitioners have noticed the benefits from encouraging children to participate in community activities. Rohman arrived from Afghanistan in May 2022 and loved playing cricket in his home country. When he turned 18, Barnardo’s workers contacted Wollaton Cricket Club, who instantly agreed to Rohman joining the club and connected him with somebody who spoke his first language. The club has members from many different backgrounds which made him feel welcome and he made new friends there.

Barnardo’s Chief Executive Lynn Perry MBE said:

“Children who have gone through unimaginable horrors and are seeking refuge in the UK are too often facing delays, detention and even hostility, and are not getting the support they need to recover from trauma.

“All children need support and protection. They must be treated as children first and foremost, regardless of their immigration status. National Government has a responsibility to provide resourcing and leadership, with all agencies working together to make sure children arriving on our shores receive the right care.

“Thousands of children have been welcomed by families across the UK through the Homes for Ukraine Scheme. This scheme is far from perfect, but it shows that providing a warm welcome for children of all nationalities can become a reality if families, communities and government work together.”

Enver Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said:

"All children seeking safety in our country deserve to be met with care and compassion. It's vital that we stand firm in our commitment to uphold children's rights by ensuring that refugee children are welcomed and supported just like any other child in need in the UK.

 "We have a responsibility to ensure that these children, whether they arrive alone or in families, are looked after and given the support they need to thrive in their new communities. We need an asylum system that is fair and that prioritises the welfare of children – not one that would see traumatised and vulnerable children locked up and in constant fear of being removed."

Dan Paskins, Director of UK Impact at Save The Children, said:

“Instead of introducing cruel legislation that threatens to detain vulnerable children, the UK Government should focus on expanding safe and regular routes to asylum for those forced to flee their homes, and on creating an immigration system that puts children and their best interests at its heart.

“Our responsibility is to offer safety, protection and a warm welcome when children arrive and to create a future where they can thrive.

 “Ending the possibility of detention and ensuring separated children are reunited with their families is imperative. And we need skilled professionals with a deep understanding of what children have lived through to provide vital care and support.”

Click here to read the A Warm Welcome report.