Child migrants at risk of being sent to Rwanda, campaigners claim

Refugee Council says UK wrongly assessed ages amid controversial deportation policy

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dungeness, Kent, as migrant children could be mistakenly sent to Rwanda. PA
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Migrant children in the UK are at risk of being sent to Rwanda, campaigners have warned.

The Refugee Council claims errors were made by the government in some of its age assessments of youngsters who sought asylum in the UK.

It said it has already had to “intervene to stop children who were incorrectly assessed as adults from being detained awaiting removal to Rwanda” as part of a UK government policy to deter migrants from crossing the Channel.

The Home Office previously said no lone migrant children would be sent to Rwanda, but families may be in line for removal.

The news comes as Channel crossings resumed on Thursday after a five-day hiatus due to bad weather, with children among the first group of migrants brought ashore.

A report published by the Refugee Council on Friday said almost all, 94 per cent, of 233 children it supported last year were wrongly considered to be aged over 18 by the Home Office.

And in more than half the cases, the government claimed they were at least 25.

Only 14 were found to be adults.

Enver Solomon, the charity's chief executive, said the blunders leave children at risk of abuse and neglect, as well as without proper support or education.

He said: “Every day refugee children are at risk of abuse and neglect because hasty, woeful decision-making routinely mistakes them for adults. Time and again the government claims that people are always lying about their age but the evidence shows they are not.

“We are very worried that children are going to be sent to Rwanda, which will have devastating consequences for young people who have already suffered so much.

“We urge the government to immediately take heed of our recommendations and do better by vulnerable children it has a duty to protect.”

In January, the government brought in scientific advisers in a bid to use X-rays and other medical checks on asylum seekers to stop grown men “masquerading as children” on their applications.

The number of adult asylum seekers falsely claiming to be children is a “significant issue”, the Home Office said as it announced it was setting up a scientific advisory committee to get advice on ways of checking the ages of those arriving in the UK.

The committee is considering the accuracy and reliability of a “range of scientific methods for estimating age”, as well as ethical and medical issues, before reporting its findings.

But the council's report described the plans as “flawed”, adding that they risk more children being wrongly treated as adults with some “forced to go through scientific procedures that are not reliable”.

The government needs to be more transparent by publishing “adequate and accurate” data on the subject so the true scale of the problem can be known, the charity said.

More than 32,300 people have crossed the Channel to the UK so far this year, government figures show.

So far, 7,047 people have come to shore in September, figures suggest.

August 22 saw the highest number of people brought to the UK in a single day so far this year, with 1,295 rescued in the Channel.

In April, the then home secretary, Priti Patel, announced the “world-first” agreement with Rwanda by providing one-way tickets to some asylum seekers.

However, the first deportation flight was grounded amid a series of legal challenges.

Earlier this month, the UN Refugee Agency told the High Court the Rwanda plan was “incompatible with UK’s fundamental obligations”.

The UNHCR said Rwanda “lacks irreducible minimum components of an accessible, reliable, fair and efficient asylum system”.

“There are serious defects in the Rwandan refugee status determination system,” said Laura Dubinsky QC, for the UNHCR.

“The fact that a part of the Rwandan asylum system sometimes operates outside of Rwandan law … significantly increases the risk of arbitrary decision making.”

Speaking to BBC Radio Kent about the Rwanda deal on Thursday morning, Prime Minister Liz Truss said: “We are [sticking with the Rwanda policy] and what we will make sure is that UK courts can't be overruled by the European Court of Human Rights so we are able to deal with the small boats crisis, and the home secretary is determined to get on with that.”

Updated: September 30, 2022, 11:08 AM