Keep children’s best interests at the heart of the asylum system

Tuesday 10 November 2015

A new report, Put Yourself in Our Shoes, by the Law Centres Network ‘Principles to Practice Project’ has called for people charged with making life-changing decisions about unaccompanied children seeking asylum to be supported so that they can ensure that the children’s best interests are at heart. The report was co-authored by Garden Court’s Kathryn Cronin.

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The report involved 15 Law Centres and partners, along with considerable voluntary support from City law firm Allen & Overy. It is based on data collected throughout 2014 from a representative sample of 60 cases of unaccompanied children.

Last year, some 1,945 children applied for asylum in the UK while on their own. That number is expected to rise in light of the government’s recent commitment to take in 20,000 refugees by 2020. The UK government is committed to considering children’s best interest in all decisions made about them.

However, the report shows how, throughout the children’s asylum and care process, this is not reflected in practice – and it stands to affect their life chances. Varying levels of understanding of child rights along the process see things done to and for the children seeking asylum without any room for their input. This means that, in effect, the asylum process merely pays lip service to children’s best interests.

The report identifies child-centred principles from international practice, and highlights areas of good practice in the UK asylum system. It also makes recommendations on improving the asylum process, as well as improving training and skills for those working with children, to ensure that their best interests are well and truly paramount.

Julie Bishop, director of the Law Centres Network, says:

“People seeking asylum are fleeing conflict and persecution, and none are more vulnerable than children separated from their families. We hope that government will share our concern at the findings and follow our practical recommendations to truly uphold these children’s best interests.”

The report was authored by Dr Kathryn Cronin, barrister and joint head of Garden Court Chambers; Baljeet Sandhu, solicitor and manager of the Migrant and Refugee Children’s Legal Unit (MiCLU) at Islington Law Centre; and Professor Ravi Kohli, child welfare expert from the University of Bedfordshire.

Lady Hale, deputy president of the UK Supreme Court, and Mr Justice Bernard McCloskey, president of the Upper Tribunal Immigration and Asylum Chamber, both helped launch the report at the House of Lords last night.

More information can be found in the report’s executive summary and in the report itself.

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