The UK has announced new guidance aimed at preventing migrants from posing as minors in a bid to bolster their asylum claims.
Anyone who appears to be “significantly over 18” will automatically be treated as an adult, lowering the threshold from 25.
The new guidance issued to officials processing asylum applications aims to weed out dishonest men and women who claim to be children.
The changes were announced on Friday after 271 people arrived in the UK on Thursday on small boats from France.
A young child was seen among a group of migrants being helped ashore by Border Force officials in Dover, Kent.
French authorities said one person had drowned in the early hours of Friday, after falling from a dinghy bound for Britain.
The UK Home Office said the asylum system reforms aim to prevent adults posing as minors from being wrongly placed in the children’s care system.
Anyone asylum seeker who claims to be underage can be treated as an adult if two officials independently agree that their physical appearance and demeanour suggest they are well over the age of 18.
In the 12 months to September 2021, around two-thirds of 1,696 individuals who claimed to be children were found to be adults. This figure refers to the resolved cases and many other cases are awaiting an outcome.
Because many arrivals do not have a passport or any documents that prove their age, officials find it difficult to determine exactly how old they are.
“Single adults who falsely claim to be children in order to seek asylum go on to access children’s services putting the welfare of children and young adults in school and care at risk,” Kevin Foster, the Minister for Safe and Legal Migration said.
“Together with our Nationality and Borders Bill, which has passed its latest stage in the [House of] Lords, this guidance will help put an end to these blatant abuses on our immigration and asylum systems.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel has called the practice of adults masquerading as children “an appalling abuse of our system, which we will end”.
If an asylum applicant refuses to undergo an age assessment with a valid reason this will be seen as a black mark on their asylum application and could influence the outcome of the final decision.
Earlier this month reports suggested X-rays could be used in such checks.
A scientific advisory committee made up of experts are set to examine whether methods employed by immigration officials in other countries could work in the UK.
CT and MRI scans could also be ushered in to bolster the UK’s options to expose adults posing as children.
Last year a record-breaking 28,401 people crossed the English Channel on small boats to the UK.