There has been media reports this week about how child refugees are being subjected to “traumatic” examinations to prove their age. The type of test differs according to the country one applies in. In UK, the system that officials follow while dealing with children does not always comply with the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which all children are protected by.
In Sweden and Germany, genital examinations are carried out even though these tests are not a hundred percent conclusive. A study by the British Medical Bulletin indicates that some children think of these tests as a form of abuse, especially ones who have previously been subject to violence and female genital mutilation.
MRI scans, which are used in Germany, have been described by Professor Juana Remus from the Humboldt University in Berlin as requiring “people to go into a hole, which can be particularly traumatizing for asylum seekers.”
Sweden also uses dental and wrist X-rays to determine the age of applicants.
In the UK, an interview system is used to determine whether the person ‘behaves like a child or an adult’. 22% of such cases are challenged while the interview system in general is not very accurate - a report by the Refugee Council states cases where children as young as 14 years old were placed in adult detention centres.
Child refugees and children who are seeking asylum should be entitled to special protection along with being treated in accordance with all the rights in the UNCRC. The UK is advised to use detention as the last resort and for a very short time period, as well as leniency in cases where the exact age is in question, acquiring help from professionals. The Home Office itself has a policy in which applicants who are not carrying any form of documentation and whose age is not yet confirmed should be dealt with as minors until an ‘age assessment’ has been carried out. The only exception is when their ‘appearance’ convincingly suggests that they are not children. The child’s best interest is supposed to always comes before any immigration law.
As mentioned in the Children’s Rights Alliance for England’s (CRAE) annual State of Children’s Rights in England 2014 report, when the Office of the Children’s Commissioner investigated the initial interview process for asylum seeking children, it found out that they were questioning scared children who had no legal representative with them.
Additionally, as CRAE states, in 2013, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration while investigating how asylum applications made by children are handled discovered certain flaws within the process:
If immigration officials and local authority are disputing a child’s age, regardless of what Home Office policy is, the applicant is treated as an adult and does not receive the additional protection that a child is entitled to. They can have their application refused or possibly be detained and deported. According to CRAE, “In 2010, 26 out of 36 children detained as adults with whom the Refugee Council worked were released after they had been assessed as children.”
In case a child’s asylum application is rejected but they have insufficient arrangement in their country of origin, they are granted a ‘UASC leave’ which means that they can stay up to 30 months in the country or alternatively until the age of 17 and a half. During that time they are taken into care. However, once that time period is up, they have no official status. According to CRAE’s report, “The requirement to report regularly to an immigration office recommences. Their stress levels are high and they are unable to plan for their future.”
There are approximately 120,000 undocumented children in the UK and 36 who cannot enter or remain in the UK. Some cases remain as such due to ‘poor quality legal representation, poor quality Home Office decision-making, a lack of adherence to guidance by Home Office decision-makers, and a “culture of disbelief” within the Home Office’.