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Asylum and Age Determination: Proposed Government Changes

The Home Secretary has today announced proposals for profound changes to the law and guidance in relation to asylum law and age determination

The law in relation to asylum and immigration is not devolved so any changes will impact on all four nations of the UK.

The changes proposed are complex so the following aims to give a summary of the main issues.

Age determination

A key social work responsibility is age determination for asylum seekers who are under 18. Under 18s receive key protections from wider immigration legislation since legally they are a child. Many social workers also undertake direct work with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

The government is proposing a National Age Assessment Board (NAAB) which would set the criteria, processes and requirements of age assessment through ‘scientific’ methods. It is not clear what these ‘scientific’ methods are. While this new agency would have power to undertake age assessments the proposals seem to envisage that age assessments continue to be undertaken by local authorities, and therefore social workers, except this time under the watch of the NAAB.    

Routes to asylum

The trafficking of people results in both modern slavery and multiple deaths. Asylum seekers families may be saddled with life-long debt bondage. Asylum seekers themselves may be forced to work in illegal or criminal enterprises once in the UK. Over the last year the media have reported both death by suffocation as asylum seekers were packed into refrigerated lorries and deaths by drowning as individuals tried to cross the Channel on unseaworthy boats. Organisations supporting refugees have argued for routes of safe passage to the UK as a way of bypassing the power of traffickers. Instead, the government is proposing something rather different, a two-tier system that would penalise migrants who had paid traffickers by sending them back to a safe country they had previously passed through.

Other changes

The government is also proposing a review of the legal processes whereby asylum seekers can challenge decisions by the Home Office, changes to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) which exists to identify and support the victims of trafficking which allows the NRM to identify and expel those who the Government think are making false claims to be victims of modern slavery, more reception centres, a reduction in the asylum support payment for certain criteria of asylum seekers, new powers for the Border Force, tougher sentences for traffickers and new powers to deport offenders who are foreign nationals.

Lack of detail

Asylum law and process is complex and putting aside the major issues of human rights and ethics for a moment, much of the consultation document lacks detail as to how these proposed new powers might be implemented. For example, the proposed legislation would give the government power to ‘process’ asylum seekers off the UK mainland. The three preferred sites trailed in the media were Gibraltar, the Ilse of Man, and a Scottish Island. All three jurisdictions immediately stated they had no knowledge of this scheme and refused to participate.

BASW will work closely with a coalition of refugee organisations and other groups in challenging these proposals. Social workers have amassed considerable expertise on age determination, through their wider work with unaccompanied asylum- seeking children, and their work supporting individuals and families who have No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) and BASW will bring this expertise to the coalition.

Consultation on the proposals begins today (24 March) and closes on 6 May. BASW will undertake consultation to ensure the views of the members are heard. After the consultation BASW will ensure the voice of social work and social workers is heard in Parliament on this issue.