Page last updated at 01:38 GMT, Tuesday, 10 March 2009

UK child asylum rules 'flouted'

UK immigration staff
More than 7,000 asylum-seeking children come to the UK each year

Government guidelines on the treatment of child asylum seekers are being "routinely flouted" by UK Border Agency staff, according to a report.

The Refugee and Migrant Justice charity says asylum-seeking children often have no access to lawyers.

Young people are regularly locked up and face a "culture of disbelief" among officials, the report adds.

The UK Border Agency, part of the Home Office, said it "rejected the vast majority" of the report's findings.

The government introduced a code of practice two months ago to safeguard the welfare of the more than 7,000 asylum-seeking children who arrive in the UK each year.

Not only are there real gaps in the government's code but, even where its provisions are good, they are routinely being flouted
Caroline Slocock
Refugee and Migrant Justice

But the Does Every Child Matter? report from Refugee and Migrant Justice - formerly the Refugee Legal Centre - describes cases which it says show the guidelines are ignored.

It says an eight-year-boy who had fled his country after his home had been destroyed in fighting was given no legal help with his asylum interview and application.

His claim was refused because of his lack of "credibility", the report says.

In another case highlighted in the report, a 16-year-old was wrongly assessed to be 26 and detained in an adult centre for six months where he became severely depressed.

Refugee and Migrant Justice chief executive Caroline Slocock said: "We welcome the government's genuine aspiration to keep children seeking asylum safe from harm but this report shows it has a long way to go.

"Not only are there real gaps in the government's code but, even where its provisions are good, they are routinely being flouted."

Whenever we take decisions involving children, their welfare comes first
UK Border Agency spokesman

Lisa Nandy, policy adviser at the Children's Society, said the report highlighted the "discriminatory treatment of children who seek asylum in the UK".

A UK Border Agency spokesman said treating children with care and compassion was "number one priority".

"Whenever we take decisions involving children, their welfare comes first. That's why we have transformed our children's policy, enshrining in law a commitment to protect youngsters and keep them safe from harm," said the spokesman.

"When the independent courts find a family has no need for protection, we expect them to return home.

"We would much prefer it if they did this voluntarily - enforced removals are very much a last resort."

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