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Unaccompanied Minors Entering the UK

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Published: 6th Dec 2019

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Literature Review

The phenomenon of the migration of minors (children, young people and adolescents) who migrate alone, without their families and regardless of the established laws and administrative procedures, has gained intensity in recent decades, both in Europe and abroad (Chase, 2013, pp.864).

The European Union has not yet succeeded in passing a specific and mandatory norm for all the Member States that makes it possible to address this phenomenon globally, coherently and satisfactorily for the rights of the minor (Eide, and Hjern, 2013, pp.667). So far there are only well-intentioned legal instruments but without direct legal effectiveness. As it is observed, in little more than a decade that the societyestablishments have faced the question from the legal point of view, the few binding provisions for the member statesare part of normative instruments approved for foreigners in general, and are not aware of the specificities of the migratory situation of unaccompanied foreign minors or of the needs derived from their situation, particularly vulnerable, within the immigrant population (Majumder, O’Reilly, Karim, and Vostanis, 2015, pp.134). In addition, these are minimum standards that in many cases do not meet or comply with the universal basic principles of child protection, responding more to management logic of relocation movements.

Home Office development perceptions demonstrate that, in 2011, there were 19,804 refuge applications made and, of those, 1,277 were Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children (UASC) (Bradby, Humphris, Newall, and Phillimore, 2015). Eighty-two per cent of UASC candidates were male and Afghanistan remained the nation of birthplace for the biggest figure of shelter for children, representing 30 per cent of UASC applications. The top five nationalities of unaccompanied children were Afghani, Iranian, Eritrean, Albanian and Vietnamese (Sirriyeh, 2013, pp.9).

In the event that the Home Office choose that an unaccompanied minor’s claim does not fulfil the criteria for guarantee under the 1951 Refugee Convention or Humanitarian Protection, the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) has an obligation to allow a time of Discretionary Leave until the point that the minor turns seventeen and a half years old (Humphris, and Sigona, 2016). This is typically represented, if in case, it is considered that there are no ‘acceptable and safe meeting areas’ in the child’s view of their returning point. Once a UASC with Discretionary Leave achieves seventeen and a half, they are qualified to apply for an extension of leave to stay (Linton, Griffin, and Shapiro, 2017).

Since the start of 2010, social consultants supporting UASC have seen that there has been a huge change in the selections made by the Home Office in regards to extensions of leave to stay (Allsopp, Sigona, and Phillimore, 2014). This regularly results in numerous asylums looking for children being refused approval to remain in the UK after they achieve their eighteenth birthday celebration. Once a youngster with Discretionary Leave achieves seventeen and a half years old, the Home Office will advise them that they must return back to their country of origin, once they have reached a particular age (Snyder, 2016).

Previously, numerous children have been successful in applying for extensions of stay even after reaching the age of 18[1]. It would not be wrong to state that presently, the attention on the aspect of sending minors back to their country of origin once they have reached a particular age is highlighted because as Rigby, and Whyte (2013, pp.42) states that UKBA is focused on managing the migration intensity and on saving money of the care costs for children that are in high need of it.

Reason for unaccompanied minors entering the UK

Consistently, an obscure number of UASC enter the UK, as numbers are available for each individual that fulfils the refugee application. UASC are characterised as children younger than eighteen who land in the UK, insist on having asylum and who are without close grown-up relatives either going with them or effectively show in the UK whom they can join (Stretmo, 2014).

The Refugee Council carried out research to explore the influencing variables and reasons why asylum seekers go to the UK. It inspected the choices made by asylum seekers and inferred that, in the dominant part of cases, the reason they land in the UK, instead of other European nations, is frequently because they believe they might be able to live in UK for a longer period or even whole life (Vervliet, Rousseau, Broekaert, and Derluyn, 2015, pp.477). A report was carried out which comprised of a survey of the current situation and carried out semi-structured meetings which 43 individuals who were looking to be asylum seekers in the UK. From these 43 individuals, 10 were children who had entered the UK unaccompanied[2].

The most pervasive motivation behind why these asylum seekers had landed in the UK was on the grounds that the choice to bring them here had been made by others. Human traffickers assume a huge part in the association and usage of plans orchestrated to empower asylum seekers to wrongfully leave their nations of the source and travel crosswise over mainland to a position of wellbeing (Masocha, 2013, pp.1627). Contingent upon the professional and the cost paid, these human traffickers are only concerned with the travel issues and ensuring the asylum seeker reaches the destination, and not opting to enter the UK with the individual (Smith-Pastrana, 2016, p.251). Huge numbers of the UASC met just wound up mindful that they were going to the UK in the wake of leaving their nations of origin and a few children landed in the UK having no idea where they have landed.

The essential purpose behind UASC leaving their nations of inception and flying out to Western countries contrasts incredibly relying upon their race, nationality, religion, political belief or sexuality (Wilding, 2017, pp.288). Research recommends that, in the larger part of cases, UASC look for political reassurance as opposed to financial riches. Many have suffered or anticipate abuse because of their government or local social groups[3]. This can include physical discipline or dangers to their life because of different reasons, for example, having their religious practices limited, being named in criminal groups, being trafficked to some other country or even sold in the sex industry, and so on (Bhabha, 2014).

Allsopp, Chase, and Mitchell, (2014, pp.178) features how the groups of UASC seem to ‘volunteer’  their children in the care of other nations as they have an ulterior goal that the other nations would provide them with the life that they cannot provide themselves. Such encounters up to and including the trip itself make UASC helpless in particular ways while testing their flexibility and ability to survive. Accordingly, UASC require deliberately arranged norms of help with a specific end goal to assist them with overcoming huge calamity and disease[4].

Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children: numbers, trends and the asylum process

Following various years in which asylum applications by UASC diminished, there have been outstanding increments in applications in the years 2014 and 2015 as shown in Figure 1 (Guentner, Lukes, Stanton, Vollmer, and Wilding, 2016, pp.402).

Figure 1 – UK asylum applications by unaccompanied children 2011–2014

The ascent in UASC applications is somewhat determined by developing quantities of UASC meeting point from Eritrea and Afghanistan, in spite of the fact that quantities of UASC expanded from all the main eight UASC nations of the starting point, barring Albania. Definitely, rises in amounts of UASC and variances in their countries of origin expose more extensive worldwide possibilities and alteration (Smyth, 2014). Be that as it may, an emotional gender bias in UASC has stayed consistent. In 2015, 90% of UASC were male, a tantamount figures to earlier years. Hansson, Ghazinour, and Wimelius, (2015, pp.108) has recommended conceivable explanations behind the predominance of males, including the more serious peril presented to males in locales of conflict and the discernment that there are fewer risks to young men when travelling[5].

Essentially, it has dependably been the situation that majority of UASC are matured sixteen or over when they arrive in the UK. The figures for 2015 exhibit that 62% of UASC were matured sixteen or over, with 88% of UASC matured more than fourteen (Pacione, Measham, and Rousseau, 2013, p.341). On entry in the UK, UASC will experience an asylum procedure which is the focal point underneath in Figure 1. Children looking for asylum may show at ports of passage on landing in the UK or present ‘in the nation’ at different areas, now and then introducing to the local authority as opposed to the Home Office.

Figure 2 – Basic asylum process for unaccompanied children

As exhibited in Figure 2, UASC may have their age questioned when they land in the UK as they might not have proper documentation to affirm their age (Davidson, 2013, p.497). Their age will then be surveyed by the Local Authority (LA) in which they at first exhibited. De Graeve, (2017, pp.80), utilising Home Office figures, report a 141% increase from 2014 to 2015 in the quantity of age-questioned UASCs. This is a dubious practice, condemned for the poor quality of appraisals and the inaccurate policies utilised. Concerns have been raised that social work professionals might be required to do the evaluations. The focus between these practices mainly feeds into a prevalent “culture of belief” and the supposed paramountacy of child welfare[6].

Pobjoy, (2013) positions the exercise of age assessment in wider social procedures, connecting it with both a shift concerning gradually preventive asylum and immigration strategies in addition to extensive social queries about what it necessitates to be ‘a child’ in society. Undoubtedly, the debate of age appraisal reflects two essential strategy issues. To start with, the imbalance between the arrangement of supervisions for children and grown-ups which comes from the generally defended status conceded to children by their universally and broadly perceived secured status in law (Sundqvist, Hansson, Ghazinour, Ögren, and Padyab, 2015, p.215). Also, and relatedly, age evaluation indicates the ways in which normative western concepts of childhood defined mainly by legal and sequential age and related with susceptibility and inactiveness can be employed to eliminate children and young people from vital necessities and defences[7].

Once the candidate has been acknowledged as a child an underlying choice will be made on their claim. Straightforwardly, there are two conceivable results; the claim might be acknowledged and refugee status allowed or the claim will be unsuccessful and exile status eliminated (O’Donnell, 2013). Nonetheless, on account of refusal, the lawful position of UASC can turn out to be more confused. As Figure 3 (underneath) illustrates, an generous number of UASC will be offered transitory periods of leave to stay in the UK following the refusal of their refuge guarantee, frequently using the ‘UASC Leave’ group that pertains when the only aim for permitting an episode of provisional leave is that the claimant is a child who cannot be securely reverted to their country of basis (Liefaard, and Sloth-Nielsen, 2016). Figure 3 clarifies all the diverse conceivable results of a UASC’s shelter claim, and subtle elements the numbers who acquired each outcome in the years 2014 and 2015, exhibiting how pervasive the utilisation of brief types of leave are for UASC.

Figure 3 – Decisions on claims made by UASC 2014–2015 (aged seventeen and under at the time of decision)

The figures in Figure 3 apply just to UASC who get a choice on their asylum guarantee before they turn eighteen. Those matured eighteen at the season of the choice will not be conceded UASC Leave and are probably not going to get Discretionary Leave to Remain (just three such candidates got optional leave in 2014 and 2015 consolidated) (Parusel, 2017). For these children, the main outcome would likely result is that their claim will be rejected inside and out, as happened in 82% of these cases in 2015. In any case, as showed in Figure 3, the majority of UASC claims settled before the candidate turns eighteen will result in the allow of some type of impermanent leave to remain, which terminates when the youngster approaches adulthood (Echavez, Bagaporo, Pilongo, and Azadmanesh, 2014). Over a portion of UASC claims were settled along these lines in 2015. The same is valid for all years since 2010, except for 2014 (Figure 3).

Temporary grants of leave to UASC are made on the premise that the UASC does not meet the criteria for Refugee Status or Humanitarian Protection, however, cannot be sent back to their country. Axford, (2013, pp.65) reflects that these procedures of temporary leave are settled in ‘compassionate conditions’, the universal dependence on UASC Leave has come under rising inspection and disapproval. The incidence of surrendering temporary statuses emphasised above has been belittled as a comprehensive policy that does not reflect the separate wants of children (Jones, and Welch, 2018). Specifically, questions have developed about how much such choices assess the ‘best advantages of the children’.

The ‘best benefits of the child’ standard are cherished in universal law as an essential consideration when settling on choices that influence children and in the national enactment in the UK Border Authority’s (UKBA) obligation to protect and advance the welfare of children (Braye, and Preston-Shoot, 2016). A series of studies have inferred that the UKBA does not assemble adequate data on the youngster’s best advantages to achieve educated choices on shelter claims, needs worry for setting up the child’s best advantages and neglects to finish formal ‘best advantages of the child evaluations’ when settling on choices on whether to allow UASC take off (Tipton, and Furmanek, 2016).

Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and children’s social care services

Once in the past acknowledged as UASC, unaccompanied children’ privileges are the same as native children and they will be accommodated as a ‘taken care of youngster’ under the Children Act 1989. Previously, some local authorities gave supervisions to UASC as ‘children in require’ (under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 which puts an obligation on the LA to protect and advance the welfare of children) (Linton, Kennedy, Shapiro, and Griffin, 2018). Offering services under this area of the Children Act, as opposed to the more complete arrangement for cared for children in Section 20 (which puts an obligation on the LA to help the child), had the impact of prohibiting UASC from qualifications to Leaving Care benefits under the Children Leaving Care Act (2000), which is just accessible to children who have been formally ‘taken care of’ (under Section 20, Children Act 1989) (Chase, 2013, pp.866).

Eide, and Hjern, (2013, pp.666) noticed that under these practices some unaccompanied young people were removed from full access to services and were probably going to get poorer services than their national companions. Nonetheless, recent researches and case laws has changed this position and the assumption are present that unaccompanied young people will be accommodated under Section 20 and therefore qualified for full help under the CLCA 2000, irrespective of the area of the Children Act benefits they have attained (Majumder, et.al, 2015, pp.134). This speaks to a critical progression in the treatment and assembling of UASC and has guaranteed that their qualification to the full scope of children’ services is guaranteed in law.

Under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989, UASC and are owed specific obligations from the local authority. The local authority has an obligation to help and suit UASC and also a broader obligation to defend and advance their welfare. An appraisal of their needs will be directed utilising the ‘System for the evaluation of children in requiring and their families’, albeit some consider that this structure is not completely versatile for the evaluation of UASC (Bradby, et.al, 2015). Following the appraisal, a care plan will be made which assesses settlement, financial aspects and more extensive help needs. The larger part of UASC is presently suited in child care. Figures for 2014 demonstrate that 61% 5 of UASC was put in child care, while 25% were set in free-living and 11% were put in private care (Sirriyeh, 2013, pp.12).

Nonetheless, there is proof that development is benefited mainly for UASC who reach below the age of sixteen, and that the difference that are above this age will not be located in temporary care. Temporary care is usually measured to be an optimistic settlement selection which aids incorporation, mental health and scholastic attainment. Humphris, and Sigona, (2016) thorough review of temporary care for UASC emphasised its transformative possibility, but likewise elevated worries regarding the influence of contemporary funding cuts on UASC’s admittance to high quality situations.

While there have been some remarkable gains in the assurance of UASC over late years, and the legislature has emphasized its position that migration status ought not to influence the nature of help given to children, some disturbing variables remain. Linton, et.al, (2017) pointed out uncertainties 10 years ago regarding the rise of a two-tier scheme in which UASC were alienated from citizen young people. Regardless of the on-going legalised advances plan, there is as yet steady tension that the migration framework keeps on abrogating youngster welfare concerns. The privileges of children (specifically uprooted and displaced person children) are set up inside the UK and universal law and supported by worldwide children’ rights talks and the expert estimations of the professionals who execute strategies to ensure the welfare of children (Allsopp, et.al, 2014).

Nonetheless, UK immigration policy gradually follows a limiting securitisation outline. UASC, located at the connection of these two extremely dissimilar policy areas, become an unavoidable location of disagreement in which the privilege of children to be secured conflicts with the aim of restricting relocation jointly and calculating migrants separately (Snyder, 2016). The consequence of such a disagreement could be an arrangement of separated access to qualifications for UK national children and evacuee/shelter looking for children. This has shown in the UK approach influencing UASC in an assortment of ways. Rigby, and Whyte, (2013, pp.44) call attention to those children without affirmed legitimate status have not been incorporated into Child Poverty targets set by progressive governments.

An investigation of 59 unaccompanied children and 67 experts and arrangement creators by Stretmo, (2014) found that some UASC still had difficulties retrieving health facilities and education, frequently owing to the absence of a helpful adult to support them with retrieving amenities, or because of misunderstanding on the portion of services and establishments regarding their powers and privileges as asylum seekers. Vervliet, et.al, (2015, pp.474) revealed worries about an absence of proper psychological well-being amenities to address UASC’s issues, and that general levels of help and care from children’ social care amenities remained contradictory all over local authority territories. This proposes there are a few regions in which UASC may think that it is hard to completely practice their lawful rights qualifications notwithstanding full access being guaranteed in legitimate terms.

Theoretical Perspective

The Migration System Theory can be used to explain the increase in the number of UASC in the United Kingdom. The migration movement is a result of the interaction between macro, micro, and mesostructures (Migliarini, 2018). The microsystem theory aims to understand the individual motivation for another country. The example involves the personal decision to seek protection in another country. On the other side, the macro level factors have based migration on economic and political aspects. According to this aspect, migration takes place because of the interaction of political relationships between countries (Coddou, 2017).

According to Pereira, Snel, and Hart (2015), the Transnational Theory is another theory that explains the migration of children. The theory explains that migration takes place because of the presence of better economic opportunities and social networks. This theory has highlighted that individuals are in perpetual motion. They tend to move to places that have cultural similarities (Mayblin, 2014). The Transnational Theory has highlighted the significance of conserving the national identity of individuals. According to this theory, children who belong to transnational families face several challenges when they move from one place to another. The most important challenge faced by them is related to the development of social networks (Sirriyeh, 2008).

The Push and Pull Theory also gives an explanation of why people choose to leave their country of residence and choose a specific location. According to the theory, push factors urge people to leave their current residence and pull factors urge people to choose a specific destination. The push factors include the low living standard, war, lack of economic opportunities, political repression, and others. On the other side, pull factors include political freedom, economic opportunities, and others. The theory states that push and pulls factors are present in all migratory movements (Sundqvist, Padyab, Hurtig, and Ghazinour, 2018).


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Bhabha, J., 2014. Child migration and human rights in a global age (Vol. 22). Princeton University Press.

Bradby, H., Humphris, R., Newall, D. and Phillimore, J., 2015. Public health aspects of migrant health: a review of the evidence on health status for refugees and asylum seekers in the European Region.

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Coddou, M., 2017. Sanctified Mobilization: How Political Activists Manage Institutional Boundaries in Faith-Based Organizing for Immigrant Rights, in Barbara Wejnert , Paolo Parigi (ed.) On the Cross Road of Polity, Political Elites and Mobilization (Research in Political Sociology, Volume 24) Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.25 – 65

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Davidson, H., 2013. Does the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child Make a Difference. Mich. St. Int’l L. Rev.22, p.497.

De Graeve, K., 2017. Classed landscapes of care and belonging: Guardianships of unaccompanied minors. Journal of Refugee Studies30(1), pp.71-88.

Echavez, C.R., Bagaporo, J.L.L., Pilongo, L.W.R. and Azadmanesh, S., 2014. Why do children undertake the unaccompanied journey?. Motivations for departure to Europe and other industrialised countries from the perspective of children, families and residents of sending communities in Afghanistan.

Eide, K. and Hjern, A., 2013. Unaccompanied refugee children–vulnerability and agency. Acta paediatrica102(7), pp.666-668.

Guentner, S., Lukes, S., Stanton, R., Vollmer, B.A. and Wilding, J., 2016. Bordering practices in the UK welfare system. Critical Social Policy36(3), pp.391-411.

Hansson, J., Ghazinour, M. and Wimelius, M.E., 2015. Police Officers’ Use of Discretion in Forced Repatriations of Unaccompanied, Asylum-seeking Refugee Children—Balancing Efficiency and Dignity. International Journal of Social Work and Human Services Practice3(3), pp.101-108.

Humphris, R. and Sigona, N., 2016. Mapping unaccompanied asylum seeking children in England. Becoming Adult Research Brief, (1).

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Migliarini, V., 2018. Colour-evasiveness’ and racism without race: the disablement of asylum-seeking children at the edge of fortress Europe. Race, Ethnicity & Education, 21(4), 438-457.

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Pobjoy, J.M., 2013. A child rights framework for assessing the status of refugee children.

Rigby, P. and Whyte, B., 2013. Children’s narrative within a multi-centred, dynamic ecological framework of assessment and planning for child trafficking. British journal of social work45(1), pp.34-51.

Sirriyeh, A., 2008. Young Asylum Seekers’ Conceptions of ‘Home’ at a Time of Transition to Adulthood. International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care, 4 (1), pp.12-27

Sirriyeh, A., 2013. Hosting strangers: Hospitality and family practices in fostering unaccompanied refugee young people. Child & Family Social Work18(1), pp.5-14.

Smith-Pastrana, M., 2016. In Search of Refuge: The United States’ Domestic and International Obligations to Protect Unaccompanied Immigrant Children. Ind. Int’l & Comp. L. Rev.26, p.251.

Smyth, C., 2014. European asylum law and the rights of the child. Routledge.

Snyder, S., 2016. Asylum-seeking, migration and church. Routledge.

Stretmo, L., 2014. Governing the unaccompanied child–media, policy and practice.

Sundqvist, J. Padyab, M. Hurtig, A. and Ghazinour, M., 2018. The association between social support and the mental health of social workers and police officers who work with unaccompanied asylum-seeking refugee children’s forced repatriation: A Swedish experience. International Journal Of Mental Health, 47(1), 3-25.

Sundqvist, J., Hansson, J., Ghazinour, M., Ögren, K. and Padyab, M., 2015. Unaccompanied asylum-seeking refugee children’s forced repatriation: Social workers’ and police officers’ health and job characteristics. Global journal of health science7(6), p.215.

Tipton, R. and Furmanek, O., 2016. Dialogue interpreting: A guide to interpreting in public services and the community. Routledge.

Vervliet, M., Rousseau, C., Broekaert, E. and Derluyn, I., 2015. Multilayered ethics in research involving unaccompanied refugee minors. Journal of Refugee Studies28(4), pp.468-485.

Wilding, J., 2017. Unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the UK: From centres of concentration to a better holding environment. International Journal of Refugee Law29(2), pp.270-291.

[1] Allsopp, J., Sigona, N. and Phillimore, J., 2014. Poverty among refugees and asylum seekers in the UK: An evidence and policy review. University of Birmingham, Institute for Research into Superdiversity.

[2] Bhabha, J., 2014. Child migration and human rights in a global age (Vol. 22). Princeton University Press.

[3] Braye, S. and Preston-Shoot, M., 2016. Practising social work law. Macmillan International Higher Education.

[4] Jones, P. and Welch, S., 2018. Rethinking children’s rights: Attitudes in contemporary society. Bloomsbury Publishing.

[5] Pobjoy, J.M., 2013. A child rights framework for assessing the status of refugee children.

[6] Smyth, C., 2014. European asylum law and the rights of the child. Routledge.

[7] Stretmo, L., 2014. Governing the unaccompanied child–media, policy and practice.

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