Two-thirds quizzed about their age are found to be ADULTS, official report reveals after almost 3,000 people claiming to be unaccompanied minors apply for asylum in a year
- Nearly two-thirds of 'child' refugees were found to be adults new report shows
- In one year, 65 per cent of asylum seekers assessed were judged to be over 18
- Home Office received 2,952 asylum applications from unaccompanied children
Nearly two-thirds of ‘child’ refugees who were questioned about their real age after coming to Britain were found to be adults, an official report has found.
In one year, 65 per cent of asylum seekers assessed after claiming to be juveniles were judged to be over 18.
The report, by immigration watchdog David Bolt, revealed that the Home Office received 2,952 asylum applications from unaccompanied children in the year to June last year.
Out of these there were 705 age disputes – around a quarter of the total – where officials suspected the individual was lying about their age. Of these, 618 cases were resolved and 402 – or 65 per cent – were found to be adults.
If these asylum seekers had been treated as children it would have left councils and local taxpayers facing a care bill of millions of pounds a year.
The statistics come amid concern that Britain’s generosity towards genuine child victims of war, terror and humanitarian disasters is being abused.
The figures were published in a report by Mr Bolt, the independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, into the Home Office’s treatment of lone child migrants.
They relate to young migrants with neither parents nor carers who have sneaked into Britain stowed away in trains, lorries and ships and then claimed asylum.
If a refugee does not have a birth certificate or other travel documents, a Home Office screening officer must decide whether or not they are a child based on their ‘physical appearance and demeanour’.
Unless the person appears ‘significantly’ over 18, they should be ‘afforded the benefit of the doubt and treated as children’ until they are age-assessed by local council social workers, official rules state.
This is to avoid the risk of a child migrant accidentally being placed in adult accommodation or detention.
But on some occasions it meant adults were treated as children, potentially posing a risk to school pupils, foster families or children in care.
Home Office figures reveal that there have been 12,942 disputes over the ages of child asylum seekers since 2006, with 5,965 – around 46 per cent – found to be over 18 in this period.
Mr Bolt’s report said Home Office staff ‘did not feel confident about making initial age assessments of applicants claiming to be children, particularly judging whether the claimant was “significantly over 18” and should be entered into the adult process’.
It added: ‘They received no training to help them make such judgments.
Some local authorities were concerned that the Home Office applied its “benefit of the doubt” policy too readily, and highlighted the risks of wrongly placing an adult with children in their care.’
Reacting to the figures, Tory MP Tim Loughton, a member of the Commons home affairs select committee, said: ‘This has been a problem for some time. We have been a soft touch in too many cases for asylum seekers who abuse our hospitality by elaborating their credentials. It is right we give a safe haven to those who are in danger but too often we have been too trusting.’
A row flared in October 2016 amid concern that some adult refugees were lying about their ages to gain entry to Britain.
There were calls for the Home Office to take action after mature-looking ‘child migrants’ were among those who arrived in the UK from the squalid Jungle camp in Calais to be reunited with relatives as part of a resettlement programme.
Jack Straw, the Labour former home secretary, led demands for more accurate age tests.
Some critics said dental checks should be introduced. Officials insisted all the migrants were aged under 18. But some looked several years older, with crow’s feet and flecks of grey hair.
Computer analysis of photographs of some of the migrants suggested many could be in their 20s and 30s.
The facial recognition software written by Microsoft, even suggested one migrant was 38.
Ministers have ruled out using medical tests, including dental checks, to assess the age of migrants. Citing guidance by the Dental Medical Association, they say tests of teeth are ‘inaccurate, inappropriate and unethical’.
But Britain is one of only three EU countries not to use medical checks to verify the age of child asylum seekers. The others are Ireland and Cyprus.
Every other nation calls in doctors, dentists or psychologists to root out adults who are abusing the asylum system by pretending to be children.
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘After consultation with stakeholders we published revised guidance on age assessments and we have committed to produce more child-friendly information in a range of languages to help children better understand the asylum system.’