Unfair age assessment of child asylum seekers must be scrapped, says Liberty

16 September 2008

Liberty will argue that the current system is unfair because local authorities must take financial responsibility for child asylum seekers and have a vested interest in deciding a refugee is an adult in an attempt to save scarce resources.

Liberty’s Legal Officer Anna Fairclough, who is intervening in the case, said:

“Children facing war and persecution who have fled without their identity papers deserve our protection from penny pinching bureaucrats who would leave them homeless. Local authorities must not be judge and jury in guessing a child’s age whilst they have to foot the bill.”

Two young asylum seekers are bringing the joint appeal against Croydon Borough Council and Lambeth Borough Council. “A” fled Afghanistan after his father was killed and he was forced to leave his home. Although a doctor calculated that he was 15 years old, Croydon Social Services claimed he was over-18 and refused to provide him with children’s support. He became homeless. “M” fled Libya in fear of political persecution and although the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal assessed him as under-18, Lambeth Borough Council denied him proper support after deciding he was an adult.

Under UK law, an unaccompanied child asylum seeker is entitled to be looked after by the local authority as a child, rather than dispersed around the country with adult asylum seekers. Home Office policy requires that if a local authority deems the individual to be an adult, the immigration authorities will allow that person to be detained as an adult and possibly deported or removed to a “safe” third country.

If the Court of Appeal determines that the current system is unfair, the court itself may be responsible for making decisions about age. Liberty suggests that a better solution would be the creation of specialist independent centres for the assessment of the age of asylum seeking children.

Contact: Jen Corlew on 0207 378 3656 or 0797 3 831 128

Notes to Editors

1. “M” and “A”and the Council of the London Borough of Lambeth and the Council of the London Borough of Croydon will be heard by the Court of Appeal on Wednesday 17 September 2008. The judgment will be reserved.