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Unaccompanied migrant children let down by UK, concludes HoL report

Lords urge government to address the ‘complex problems’

Unaccompanied migrant children are being systematically let down by the EU and its Member States, including the UK, says the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee in its latest report.

In 2015 88,245 unaccompanied children applied for asylum in the EU and a conservative estimate from EUROPOL suggests that at least 10,000 unaccompanied migrant children are currently missing in the EU.

Commenting on the report, Baroness Prashar, Chairman of the Sub-Committee, said:

"The current refugee crisis is the greatest humanitarian challenge the EU has faced in its lifetime. At the sharp end of this crisis are unaccompanied migrant children, who are being failed across the board.

"We urge the EU institutions and the UK Government to address these complex problems urgently. At the end of the day, unaccompanied child migrants are children, first and foremost, and we need to work together to care for them in a decent and humane way."

Included in the Committee's conclusions are:

On the question of age assessment, the committee found that in the absence of a generally accepted, reliable and non-invasive means of assessing age medically, the frequency of non-medical age assessments, particularly in the UK, indicates a widespread reluctance to believe unaccompanied migrant children's narratives. The committee noted that age disputes have significant consequences for children's lives, and there is clear evidence that children have been placed in unsuitable conditions on the basis of a mistaken age assessment. Where doubt exists, authorities should observe their legal obligation to give young people claiming to be children the benefit of that doubt.

The report sets out (in appendix 5) a breakdown of the distribution, by local authority, of unaccompanied migrant children in England. The table was provided by Jo Wilding of Garden Court Chambers.

The committee regrets that those local authorities that are receiving the highest numbers of unaccompanied migrant children have had so little voluntary support from others. The committee welcomes the Government's recent adoption of a National Transfer Scheme for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and the emphasis that this scheme places on the best interests of the child.

The committee also emphasises that it is a fundamental principle of international law that children's best interests must be taken into account, as a primary consideration, in any decision that concerns them. As we have noted, that principle is embodied in both European and domestic law, but is largely ignored in practice.

The report recommends that the UK Government should develop, apply and routinely monitor national guidance on how to conduct best interests assessments with regard to unaccompanied minors. It calls on the Government to review the extent to which it has fulfilled its promise to consider the case for establishing a Best Interests Determination process.

The committee also recommends that the UK Government reconsider its restrictive position on family reunification. Legal aid should be available to unaccompanied migrant children for the purposes of proceedings for family reunification.

For the report, click here.