The welfare of unaccompanied children must be at the heart of our asylum system

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Children seeking asylum alone can struggle to understand the system

Scottish Refugee Council is concerned about the UK Government's delayed response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHM) inquiry into the human rights of unaccompanied migrant children and young people. The report was published in June 2013 and recommends that children's best interests must be at the heart of all asylum and immigration processes affecting them. The inquiry found evidence that this is not always currently the case and calls on the UK Government to 'shift the emphasis' towards children's best interests.

Children who have been separated from their families and are seeking asylum on their own are among the most vulnerable people we work with at Scottish Refugee Council. We are concerned that six months after the publication of the JCHR report, the UK Government is yet to respond to its findings and recommendations.

Policy Officer at Scottish Refugee Council Graham O'Neill said:

"Scottish Refugee Council shares the serious misgivings of the Joint Committee of Human Rights around the UK Government’s six-month non-response to its ground-breaking report on the human rights of unaccompanied migrant children and young people in the UK.  We believe this is wholly unsatisfactory. However, we anticipate an imminent response which we hope does justice to the JCHR’s report and its recommendation that the best interests of the child should be front and centre in all matters affecting them.

The stakes are too high for this acutely vulnerable group - often children fleeing war, torture, and loss of family - not to have their interests met.

Scottish Refugee Council sees the UK Government’s six month delay as, sadly, evidence that the JCHR were correct to call for a more joined up Whitehall, with all relevant departments working closely together. We support the JCHR’s recommendation for a clear cross-UK Government strategy to safeguard and support unaccompanied migrant children, with, in particular, the Department for Education to be given a more prominent role in overseeing the welfare of unaccompanied migrant children.

Otherwise, without that integrated approach, unaccompanied children and young people may be at risk of falling through the cracks.

As the care and protection of separated children and young people is a devolved matter, we will be interested to know if the UK Government’s response reflects discussions and, where appropriate, joint approaches and actions with the Scottish Government.

Scottish Refugee Council welcomes the JCHR’s recommendation that the Scottish Guardianship Service, which we deliver with Aberlour Child Care Trust, is a model to be piloted and adapted in England and Wales.

Scottish Refugee Council hopes the UK Government’s forthcoming response will reflect not only the thrust and recommendations made by the JCHR but, in particular, will evidence serious engagement with the call for the Scottish Guardianship Service model to piloted and tailored to the rest of the UK." 

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