Welsh Refugee Council: Child asylum seekers at 'great risk'

Teenage asylum seekers are sometimes wrongly judged to be adults

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Lone child asylum seekers are at great risk of harm or being exploited, the Welsh Refugee Council has warned.

It said young people travelling without parents or guardians often arrive without documents which can lead to some being categorised as an adult.

Between 150 and 200 young asylum seekers arrived in Wales in the last five years but it is not known how many were placed in adult accommodation.

The Welsh government and Home Office said support was being offered.

"We know that children who are wrongly assessed quite often are exploited or trafficked and they are at a great risk of harm," said Welsh Refugee Council policy officer Hannah Wharf.

"They'll also be at risk of abuse and mental health issues."

As a result of the funding cut, the organisation said children seeking asylum are not fully protected.

  • They are assessed by the Home Office as to whether they are children or believed to be adults.
  • They are dispersed to local councils; the majority in Wales to Cardiff, Newport, Swansea and Wrexham.
  • If assessed as adults they can be given council accommodation and rented accommodation in shared bed and breakfasts and flats.
  • If assessed as children - or if advocacy services argue successfully that the 'adults' are actually under 18 - they can be placed into foster care.
  • Children qualify for continued support until they are 21, or up to 25 if in full-time education.

It also claimed Wales was "lagging behind" the rest of the UK and accused the Welsh government of failing to comply with the UN convention that children seeking refuge must "be protected from violence, exploitation and child labour".

Prof Heaven Crawley at Swansea University says child asylum seekers need guardians to speak for them

It said the Welsh government has a duty to ensure every child is treated equally.

A spokesperson for the Welsh government said: "Our refugee inclusion strategy sets out that our policy commitments for children and young people in Wales apply equally strongly in the case of asylum and immigration as in any other part of public policy in Wales."

It said it has funded guidance for professionals working with unaccompanied asylum seeking children "which is underpinned by the principle, child first, migrant second".

A Home Office spokesperson said: "Unaccompanied asylum seeking children are dealt with by specially trained staff and referred to social workers as soon as possible.

"Age assessments are vital in ensuring that children and adults are treated appropriately as unfortunately adults claim to be children in order to access this specialist support."

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