Child refugees arrive alone in UK

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The Independent Online
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL demanded urgent action from the Government yesterday to help the growing tide of unaccompanied child refugees who are arriving at British ports and airports in record numbers.

Official Home Office figures reveal that the number of unaccompanied child refugees arriving in Britain almost trebled last year to 2,833. The children arrived mainly from the war zones of Africa, Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia.

In a report published today, titled Most Vulnerable Of All, Amnesty said it had evidence that at least 76 of the "terrified and bewildered" children had been placed in detention centres by the British authorities. Some of the detainees were as young as 13, the charity said.

The report was published as the Government came under fire for its record on the treatment of child refugees. It is preparing to face a challenge in the House of Commons over plans to shake up the immigration and asylum system.

Although a widescale revolt against plans to introduce a voucher-based support system for refugee applicants appears to have receded, some MPs are still unhappy at the scrapping of benefit entitlement for those fleeing persecution.

The author of the Amnesty report, Simon Russell, said the children were left traumatised by the experience and should have been cared for in a foster home. He said: "The Immigration Service are given paediatric reports, school reports and social work reports which say they are as young as 13. Yet still they are detained."

The Home Office maintains that no child asylum-seekers are knowingly held in detention.

Roland Sula arrived in Britain at the age of 16 after his parents had sent him out of Kosovo to save him from the danger of being killed by Serb police. For eight weeks after he arrived in the country in the back of a truck, the young asylum-seeker was left alone in a London hotel without the help of social workers.

He said: "You cannot expect a 16-year-old boy to do everything by himself in a foreign city as big as London without someone to care for them." So he remained in the hotel all day long, unable to speak English and afraid to go out.

After seven months he was given exceptional leave to remain by the Home Office, but was told by his new social workers that this meant he was no longer their responsibility. He had to leave the hostel where he was living and was homeless for two weeks, having to sleep on the hotel floors where other Kosovo refugees were staying.

The Amnesty report also refers to the case of a 14-year-old Tanzanian boy. With nowhere to live, he lodged with four Tanzanian men and was later raped by all of them.