In a new report, Refugee Council evaluated the cases of 233 children that it supported last year. It said that in 94 per cent of cases the Home Office wrongly judged the children to be adults and put them in inappropriate accommodation.
In over half the the cases, the charity claims that the Home Office said the children were at least 25 or older.
Charity workers warned that children could be sent to Rwanda under the government’s deportation agreement because the Home Office views them as adults.
“Every day refugee children are at risk of abuse and neglect because hasty, woeful decision making routinely mistakes them for adults,” charity CEO Enver Solomon said.
One 16-year-old said officials told him he was 28-years-old when he arrived in Dover as a refugee.
“I tell them I am 16-years, they don’t believe me,” young Ahmed said. “They tell me ‘no, you are 28’. I tell them no, it’s not my real age.
“Maybe because I’m tired when I come from France, and I’m afraid of the police. When I come to the UK, I’m still afraid, I’m really so afraid. When the police tell me I will give you this age, I can’t tell him no.”
Ahmed detailed how he was then put in hotel accommodation with adult refugees. “I don’t feel comfortable, I’m afraid, I want to live with people like me, I want to go to school. In the hotel I get in a bad situation,” Ahmed added.
It was only after the Refugee Council arranged for a social worker to assess Ahmed that his real age was determined. He was then taken to appropriate accommodation and allowed to start school.
“It’s better, when I move from the hotel, now I feel better. I will start school in September,” he said.
The charity said that misidentification was causing long term harm to children. With 94 per cent of initial decisions being overturned, the charity challenged the government’s view that many adult migrants who arrive in the UK are claiming to be children.
Earlier this year, then-home secretary Priti Patel issued guidance to immigration officials instructing them to crack down on anyone who appeared to be over 18 but who was posing as a child.
The Refugee Council evaluated 233 cases that they had handled from January 2021 to December 2021 - before this guidance was issued.
However the charity is calling for more transparency in the data and for the government to show their workings to prove they are getting their decisions right.
When refugees arrive at the UK border, their age is assessed and officials put them into one of three categories; stated age is believed, unsure about stated age, strongly believe this is an adult.
Refugee Council is worried that children are being wrongly put into the third category.
“This could be the tip of the iceberg”, the charity said.
“We are very worried that children are going to be sent to Rwanda, which will have devastating consequences for young people who have already suffered so much,” CEO Enver Solomon said.
“New reforms under the Nationality and Borders Act will not help children have their age correctly identified, but instead force more young people to go through potentially harmful and unreliable procedures.”
Charity workers say they are being overwhelmed by the number of child refugees who have been put in hotels with adults, and who need their help.
“Our team, they are really struggling,” Joe Jakes, youth development manager at Refugee Council, said.
“They just reopened after the summer on 1 September, and in about a week, we got about 60 kids needing support, the trend is definitely upwards in terms of numbers.
“You’ve got an added layer of those who are being threatened with being taken to Rwanda, detention cases are increasing, we’re seeing so many young people.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Age assessments are challenging but vital. Children are at risk when asylum seeking adults claim to be children, or children are wrongly treated as adults.
“Our reforms through the Nationality and Borders Act aim to make assessments more consistent and robust by using scientific measures, and creating a new National Age Assessment Board.
“If there is doubt whether a claimant is an adult or child, they will be referred for a local authority assessment and will be treated as a child until a decision on their age is made.”
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