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“What’s going to happen tomorrow?” Unaccompanied children refused asylum

This report brings together a range of concerns that the Office of the Children’s Commissioner has had for a number of years about how unaccompanied children navigate the asylum system they are channelled through when seeking permission (leave) to remain in the United Kingdom.

The primary focus of the research for this report was on young people who had been unsuccessful in their asylum claims and who were now young adults (or on the cusp of becoming so).These young people are expected to leave the UK and return to their countries of origin – often war zones or countries whose Governments violate the rights of its citizens. Their voices and experiences feature throughout.

The report is presented in two halves. Part 1 defines what is meant by unaccompanied children, provides an overview of their numbers in Europe and the UK, and looks at what happens to those whose claims are unsuccessful. It also considers care arrangements and the impact of how losing their asylum claim affected their status in the care system. The final chapter in part 1 reviews the legal assistance available to help children and young people put their cases before decision makers. At the end of part 1 we make a series of recommendations to Government, the Legal Aid Agency and others designed to allow children to participate fully and have their voice heard in legal proceedings that affect their lives and outcomes.

Part 2 focuses on what young people told us about their journey from leaving their own country to final refusal of asylum, and the barriers they face in returning home. It highlights what would be good practice for agencies in dealing with unaccompanied children in the asylum system.

The conclusion of this report considers how the Government might reconfigure current arrangements for those who do not meet the stringent criteria for asylum to provide a more realistic prospect of them leaving the UK at an appropriate time. The approach builds on discussions that have emerged in Europe suggesting that young migrants should be permitted to remain in the host state to complete a life project that prepares them for return to their country of origin or moving on elsewhere. At the end of part 2 we make a series of recommendations on how this may be achieved.