Recompense for Wrongfully Detained Children in the UK

Child asylum seekers were as young as 14 years old when they were “wrongfully detained” by UK immigration officials. Together, they have received one million pounds (almost $1.6 million) in compensation.

Forty former child asylum seekers who were wrongfully detained by the British Home Office have shared in a million-pound compensation package. The Home Office is responsible for immigration, security and public order.

The asylum seekers in question were boys and girls from Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia and China, reports the UK-based Guardian. Some of the children were as young as 14 years old when they were first detained. The group began legal action against the UK government department in 2005.

They received the payments in 2009 and 2010, but this has only been recently reported.

British immigration policy as it concerns children has evolved since that time. It was previously acceptable for officers to reject a person’s claim to be under 18 and treat him or her as an adult.

In January of 2007, this policy was declared to be unlawful because it did not adequately balance “firm and fair immigration control” and “the importance of avoiding the detention of unaccompanied children.”

Now, it is up to independent experts to determine the age with the knowledge and involvement of social workers. At one facility in Cambridgeshire, between 2003 and 2006, half of disputed cases were thought to be children by social services.

Unaccompanied children cross international borders without the protection of their parents. Some of them have suffered trauma along the way. The head of the UK’s Refugee Council warns that detaining such vulnerable young children can affect their physical and mental health.

Ngisti, now 23, was only 16 at the time of her imprisonment. Her claim to childhood, assessed as valid by social services, was rejected by immigration officers.

“"I couldn't believe it. I had fled Eritrea to escape prison and thought I'd arrived in a safe country, but now I was being locked up again,” said Ngisti, originally from Eritrea, to the Guardian.

But the detention itself not the only traumatic experience for migrant children, including those held with their parents. England’s children’s commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, has said that the initial arrest is often the worst part of the ordeal for young ones.

Children often do not understand what is happening when immigration officers come to arrest their parents. They may think they’ve done something wrong, especially when the situation is not explained to them.

“There was one child who had been detained before, he was extremely traumatized. He had been having counselling with the Children's Society. He was born in the UK and didn't know anywhere else [and] was extremely worried about his mother,” said Dr. Miriam Beeks of Medical Justice to the BBC, yesterday.

According to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child’s General Comment No. 6 (2005): Treatment of Unaccompanied and Separated Children Outside their Country of Origin, the bests interests of children in custody should be given “primary consideration.”

A child’s best interests should be based on assessments determining the child’s identity—nationality, upbringing, ethnic, cultural and linguistic background and any other protection needs.

An age assessment is part of determining this identity. As states the comment, age assessment “should not only take into account the physical appearance of the individual, but also his or her psychological maturity.”

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that there are 214 million migrants living outside their country of origin, including million of unaccompanied children and
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