Separated children
seeking asylum and their
transitions to adulthood:
Exploring social work
practice within a human
rights framework
Anna Gupta & Sue Clayton
 Context
 In
2012 1,168 unaccompanied children sought
asylum in the UK - down 16% from 2011 (down from
4285 in 2008 and 3174 in 2009)
 The
largest country of origin is Afghanistan (22%)
 67%
came from 5 countries (Afghanistan, Albania,
Iran, Vietnam and Eritrea)
82% male
 (www.refugeecoucil.org.uk)
Some key elements of asylum process
Age assessment -if under 18 according to Merton decision must be provided with
accommodation; however services vary according to age decision and local authority.
If refugee status not granted, UASC seeking asylum are granted a period of
Discretionary Leave until they turn 17 and a half years of age
Children under 18 are covered by UNCRC and state parties need to find 'durable
solutions' but this rarely happens
Since beginning of 2010 much harder for UASC seeking asylum to get extensions. In
2012 the refusal for those turning 18 was 78%.
Once appeal rights are exhausted (ARE) - young people are liable for removal - forced
removal or by voluntary means.
Many young people also go underground once they become ARE, and have to live as
an undocumented migrant.
Some remain ‘in limbo’ as they have exhausted all appeal rights, but have not been
removed because, for example, the Home office is not able to obtain travel documents
(also referred to as ‘end of line’)
UASC's experiences as they turn 18
Enduring uncertainties about the future
Fear of consequences of forced return
Loss of friendships, foster families and other carers and support
Loss of education
Loss of dreams and hopes for the future
Unsurprisingly 80% of referrals to the Tavistock child and family
refugee team for UASC are for 17 year olds
Approaching 18 …
Context creates negative definitions of identity:
 Right
 Not
to be in UK being questioned
being believed in court
 Re-telling
traumatic stories, ‘victim’ identity
 Public
discourses ‘bogus asylum seekers’ ‘dole
Can be internalised by young people and influence
how they are ‘constructed’ by professionals
What about young people who are
Diverse responses of families to returning young people – some no families
Shame of returning empty-handed
Young people viewed as outsiders
Psychosocial impact of insecurity –lack of mental health services
Contrast of acute poverty with life in the UK
Forcible recruitment – Southern provinces
Kidnapping, violence intimidation and threats
Perceptions – alignment with Western forces or of wealth
Limited opportunities for employment/education
Wanting and trying to return
( Broken Futures - www.refugeesupportnetwork.org.uk)
One young man’s story….
Some challenges for social
Internalisation of discourse on immigration and asylum –
constructing the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ UASC seeking
asylum. – ‘they lose interest in you as soon as you turn 18’
Discriminatory and unlawful organisational policies (e.g. different
responses to care leavers)
Awareness of ECHR Article 6 (fair trial rights) not being upheld in
court process – young person’s fears not being heard
Relationship with UKBA, e.g.
engaging with the policy of assisted voluntary return when young person
does not want this?
role/responsibilities if the young person if young person ‘goes
Use of the Law to Promote Human
Rights (1)
Ensuring entitlement to leaving care services:
 All ‘former
relevant children’ entitled to leaving care
 If
only s17, maybe able to challenge non-entitlement if
they should have been accommodated (according to
Merton decision)
 If
ARE (or ‘failed asylum seekers’) can still receive
support until fail to comply with removal directions or
if it would breach ECHR rights (e.g. Article 3 – inhuman
or degrading treatment (destitution))
Use of the Law to Promote Human
Rights (2)
 Alongside
asylum legislation, separated young
people seeking asylum can also apply for leave to
remain in the UK on ECHR Article 8 (right to
respect for private and family life) grounds.
 Social
workers can:
 Ensure good legal representation and question
whether HR rights are being addressed
 Work with young people, carers and others in
network to demonstrate relationships and links
with UK community (e.g. portfolio of life in UK,
testimonies …)
Some suggestions for good
Develop supportive relationships with young people – get to
know the individual and their story – critically reflect on
personal values and assumptions
Challenge discriminatory and unlawful practices in
organisations – engage in debate about relationship with UKBA
and SW values
Develop own and young people’s links with voluntary/NGO
refugee/ anti-deportation organisations – ensure information is
provided to make informed decisions, sound legal advice is
obtained, and contact maintained if in detention or forcibly
Ensure human rights legislation is considered and used when
Bolton, S., Kaur, K., Luh, S.S., Pierce, J. & Yeo, C. (2011) Working with refugee children: Current issues in best practice.
Chase, E. (2010) ‘Agency and Silence: Young people seeking asylum alone in the UK’. British Journal of Social Work,
40: 2050-2068Children’s Society (2012a) Into the Unknown: Children’s journeys through the asylum process.
Derluyn, I, and Broekaert. E. (2008) ‘Unaccompanied refugee children and adolescents: The glaring contrast
between a legal and a psychological perspective.’International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 31.4 (2008): 319-330.
Gladwell, C. & Elwyn, E. (2012) Broken Futures: Young Afghan asylum seekers in the UK and in their country of origin.
Wright, F. (2013). Social Work Practice with Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Young People Facing Removal.
British Journal of Social Work. (Advance on-line access)
Also: www.childrenslegalcentre.com

3. Anna Gupta and Sue Clayton