Children seeking asylum in the UK alone are confronted with a “culture of disbelief and suspicion” which leaves them frightened and confused, a report claimed today.
The needs of children fleeing war, violence and human rights abuses are not being sufficiently met by the authorities, according the Children's Society report.
The UK Border Agency (UKBA) is failing to make sure that children understand their situation in the asylum process, the report said.
The children's charity said the absence of child-friendly information, a wide-spread culture of disbelief and disputes over young people's age are causing confusion and a sense of insecurity.
This means children who are already traumatised are made more anxious, which could lead to long-term consequences for their well-being, the charity claimed.
The report also highlighted the lack of systems for UKBA to measure the effect of the asylum system on children's wellbeing.
Researchers who conducted the Into The Unknown report spoke to 33 young asylum seekers aged between 13 and 20 years old who came to the UK alone.
They came from a range of countries, including Algeria, Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia, Sudan and Syria.
Many of the children the charity spoke to said that in interviews to determine about their case there was no responsible adult to act on their behalf or explain what was happening.
In some cases, their interpreter did not speak the correct dialect or language, misrepresenting what they had said, leaving them feeling their claim was unjustified, the report said.
Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children's Society, said: "The amount of confusion and anxiety expressed by the children we spoke to in the asylum process is very concerning.
"Although the UKBA has made some progress, there needs to be a fundamental shift in attitude in how they work with children fleeing danger who need our help. Instead of getting the care and support they need, these children are considered with suspicion. In some cases they feel like they are being tricked. Children need to understand what is happening to them and have some control over their situation."
The charity is calling for specialist training for interpreters who work with these children, establishing an independent complaint and feedback system to inform all stages of the immigration process that children can easily understand, and addressing the culture of disbelief that prevents children from being treated fairly.