Asylum in the UK is available to refugee children who are unable to live safely in any part of their own country because of fear of persecution.

A person of any age may qualify for refugee status under the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees where they fear persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or anything else that puts them at risk because of the social, cultural, religious or political situation in their home country, for example, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation

Asylum is also only available where there is no protection from authorities in their own country.

To stay in the UK, refugee children also have to make a claim for asylum to show they fall within the definition.

Asylum screening will usually take place at the UK border if asylum if claimed on arrival. If not, how a child claims asylum will depend on whether they are an accompanied or unaccompanied child refugee.


Accompanied child refugees claiming asylum 

If a child is in the UK with an adult relative who is claiming asylum, the child should claim as part of that relative’s application. This involves making an appointment at the asylum intake unit in Croydon to register the claim, followed by an interview where the claim will be decided.

If the child is claiming alone, but has an adult in the UK who is legally responsible for them, they should telephone the asylum intake unit to make an appointment for their screening.

The adult who is taking responsibility for their care must then accompany the child to the walk-in service at Lunar House
40 Wellesley Road, Croydon CR9 2BY. This should be the closest blood relative to the child willing to take responsibility for their care.

The adult must provide proof of address and photo ID, such as their passport or driving licence, as well as any other documents that may help with the application.


Unaccompanied child refugees claiming asylum 

Every year thousands of children arrive in the UK without their parents, or any adult relatives, seeking refuge from persecution in their own country. In the UK there are special policies and procedures in place to help safeguard and promote the welfare of these children.

A child is considered an unaccompanied refugee if they are:

  • under 18 years of age when the asylum application is submitted.
  • applying for asylum in their own right, and
  • separated from both parents, and not being cared for by an adult who in law or by custom has responsibility to do so.

Any child under the age of 18 is entitled to seek asylum in the UK in their own right if they do not have an adult relative who is also claiming asylum.

If the child is already in the UK, children not in the care of social services should go to the asylum intake unit at Lunar House
40 Wellesley Road, Croydon CR9 2BY, near London, to make their claim.

Asylum seekers are asked to telephone to make an appointment, but this is not necessary if they have nowhere to live.

Regardless of how or where an unaccompanied child claims asylum, given the potential vulnerability of these applicants, particular priority and care is given to the handling of their cases, with close attention given to the welfare of the child at all times.

Asylum welfare interview & checks 

Unaccompanied asylum children do not have the same screening interviews as adults. Instead, they must undergo a welfare interview and a series of checks.

A welfare interview is to ensure that the child understands what is happening and why, and to ensure necessary information about their welfare is obtained.

Where the child is unable to speak English, they will be provided with a qualified interpreter. In the event that fingerprints are to be taken at this early stage, and the child is under the age of 16, a responsible adult must also be present.

All children aged 5 years or over must have their fingerprints taken. Children under the age of 5 should not be fingerprinted, although their photograph must always be taken.

An unaccompanied child may also need to be interviewed about the substance of their claim, unless they are unfit to do so, or where an interview is not necessary or may not be in the child’s best interests.

A guardian, representative or another adult who has responsibility for the child must be present during an interview. The child is also entitled to have a legal representative present.

Unaccompanied asylum children making a claim in their own right are eligible for assistance in the form of legal aid, where the Legal Aid Agency will fund a legal representative’s attendance at the substantive interview.

There is no requirement for legal representation when the welfare interview is conducted because the child should not be asked questions at that stage about issues that relate to the asylum claim. The immediate priority is the child’s welfare.

In broad terms, unaccompanied asylum children ought to be granted refugee status in the UK where refusing their application would result in them being required to return to a country in which their life or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group.

In deciding whether or not unaccompanied asylum children meet the criteria for granting refugee status under the 1951 Convention, a number of factors will be taken into consideration, such as the applicant’s maturity and any information obtained from any contactable family members, as well as independent sources of information on the political and human rights situation in the child’s country.

More weight is generally given to objective indications of risk than to the child’s state of mind and understanding of their situation.

An asylum application made on behalf of an unaccompanied child should not be refused solely because the child is too young to understand their situation or to have formed a well-founded fear of persecution.

When an unaccompanied child does not qualify for refugee status, consideration will be given as to whether they qualify to stay in the UK under other routes, such as humanitarian protection or leave on any other human rights basis.

Alternatively, discretionary leave may be granted to unaccompanied asylum children where there are no adequate reception arrangements in the country to which they would be returned if leave to remain in the UK was not granted.

In the vast majority of cases, a grant of 2½ years is the maximum length of discretionary leave that will be granted at any one time, although this can be extended until the child reaches adulthood.

Local authority care

All unaccompanied children must be referred to local authority children’s services at the earliest possible opportunity. In these circumstances, a duty social worker should attend to transfer the child into local authority care.

There is a statutory obligation on local authorities to provide care to all children in need within their jurisdiction that require it. Any unaccompanied asylum children, including those who have entered the UK clandestinely, are entitled to the same local authority support as any other child in need.


Determining the age of child refugees

All asylum seekers who claim to be under the age of 18 will be asked for documentary evidence to help establish both their identity and age.

This is important so as to ensure that those who are accepted as being children are provided with the appropriate services, such as local authority care.

Further, if a child is detained in an immigration detention centre because they are regarded as an adult, the resulting detention will be unlawful if they are in fact subsequently found to have been a child – even it was reasonably believed that they were an adult at the time.

Where the age of the unaccompanied child is in doubt, with little or no supporting evidence of the child’s age, a referral may be made to the Refugee Council for assistance.


Legal disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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