Child asylum seekers 'denied food and medicine'

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Child asylum seekers arriving in Dover, some suffering from illness or serious injuries, are being denied basics such as rest, food and medicine before they complete "oppressive" interviews with the UK Border Agency, it was claimed today.

The allegation by the organisation Refugee and Migrant Justice (RMJ) was denied by the agency.

The RMJ said the interviews show scant regard for the children's welfare.

A spokesman said: "As well as often being denied basic care, children are interviewed without the support of an independent adult or legal representative.

"Information obtained from the interviews has been used against them in their applications for international protection. RMJ lawyers argue the treatment of children interviewed on arrival at Dover is unlawful."

The RMJ's report "Safe at Last? Children on the Front Line of Border Control" describes the experiences of children arriving in Dover in their own words.

It says one child was suffering from a bomb injury and recent stab wounds when he arrived in the UK, while another had injuries from a gunshot wound, but both were detained and subjected to interview without being offered any medical care.

RMJ chief executive Caroline Slocock said: "Unaccompanied children coming into Dover arrive hungry, cold and often ill, having travelled for months in situations of great danger, fleeing war-torn countries like Afghanistan in order to find safety in the UK.

"Their welcome is an interview by the UK Border Agency that often puts welfare at risk and is used to gather information which is later used against them. Such interviews, carried out without any independent adult or legal representative present, and sometimes without the right interpreters, would be entirely unacceptable anywhere else in Britain. Children should not be treated in this way.

"We believe this treatment is unlawful and have repeatedly raised concerns with the UK Border Agency over the last 12 months. They say that the interviews are intended to help protect children but, on the ground, unacceptable treatment continues.

"Children seeking asylum should be given care first, not subjected to questioning. We are taking this issue to the courts to decide but, in the meantime, we believe the interviews should stop."

Hugh Ind, the agency's strategic director for protection, said: "The UK Border Agency does not deny children basic needs such as rest, food and medicine.

"We have a statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are in the United Kingdom and we take this duty very seriously.

"To ascertain a child's welfare we need to speak to them and therefore an initial interview is necessary. We will continue to ensure that vulnerable children are referred to child welfare agencies or the police as soon as possible.

"Our staff and interpreters have clear guidance on how to conduct interviews and comply with a code of conduct."