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Immigration policy on assessing age of young asylum seekers found to be unlawful

Policy risks children being unlawfully detained as adults

Coram Children's Legal Centre (CCLC) has welcomed the judgment from the Court of Appeal in BF (Eritrea) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2019] EWCA Civ 872 finding Home Office policy regarding young asylum seekers and age disputes to be unlawful.

CCLC has repeatedly highlighted its concerns to the Home Office regarding its policy allowing for a child to be treated as an adult if their 'physical appearance / demeanour very strongly suggests that they are significantly over 18 years of age' and detained. CCLC has cited research, guidance and case law emphasising that physical appearance is not an accurate basis for the assessment of a person's age because within different ethnic and national groups, there are wide variations in young people's growth and ages of puberty, and young people may look and act older than they are because of their experiences in their country of origin, or difficult journey to the UK.

The case before the Court of Appeal involved a young Eritrean who arrived in the UK in March 2014 and said he was 16. Immigration officers believed that he was substantially over 18 and he was held in immigration detention until September 2014, and again from January to March 2015. In September 2015 an assessment carried out by two independent social workers found his date of birth to be as claimed by him on arrival.

The Court of Appeal highlighted the damaging effects of children being detained and that the detention of a child is 'positively unlawful'. It found that the original policy at the time of detention, as well as the amended policy, regarding the assessment of the age of young asylum-seekers who claim to be under 18, "does not properly identify the margin of error inherent in the conduct of initial [age] assessments… [and] creates a significantly greater risk than would otherwise arise of children being unlawfully detained as adults."

For more details of CCLC's camapigning on the issue of age assessment of young asylum seekers, and comment by Kamena Dorling, Coram Group Head of Policy and Public Affairs, click here. For the judgment, click here.