Research from legal charity Safe Passage has revealed that around 10,000 unaccompanied children have travelled to the United Kingdom in the last decade through dangerous means such as hiding in lorries.

These latest statistics have sparked fresh outrage on how the UK supports refugee children when they seek asylum. According to official data , around 12,248 minors travelling alone have been granted protection in the country since 2010. Home Office has declared that this number is a testament to the UK’s commitment to helping vulnerable children. Upon further inspection, only 700 of those children came through government schemes.

An audit of law firms that represent refugee children seeking asylum showed that 9 out of 10 minors illegally entered the UK by lorry. By taking unsafe travel routes, not only are children risking their physical safety but are equally endangering their mental health. Giulia Tranchina, a solicitor at Wilson, told The Guardian that: “All were traumatised with psychiatric issues, most have PTSD and all had endured awful experiences.” 

More children are risking their lives to enter the country and many have pointed to the absence of legal and safe alternative routes as a key reason.

Dublin Regulation

Earlier this month, British MPs voted against an amendment that would ensure the right of unaccompanied refugee children to be reunited with family living in the UK following Brexit. As part of the European Union, the Dublin Regulation permitted children travelling alone to seek reunification with their families, subject to them residing in the EU. With January 31st set to be the date of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, the country will also be leaving behind the few protections granted to refugee children.

One of the leading figures campaigning to provide better support to refugee children is former MP Lord Alf Dubs. Dubs arrived in the UK through the Kindertransport as a child refugee fleeing from the Nazis in 1939. Under Theresa May’s government, Dubs successfully gathered support for the commitment of family reunification, however it was removed shortly after the election of Boris Johnson. Now, the Lord says the removal of the commitment is a “betrayal of Britain’s humanitarian position”.   

After gaining refugee status, adults are usually permitted to bring their children to the country – but that isn’t the case vice versa. Britain remains the only EU country that doesn’t allow refugee children to bring their parents or any other family member over. According to Home Office, this is to discourage adults from sending their children on dangerous journeys in hopes of seeking asylum, but charities say there is no evidence of this.

 Without My Family Report

A coalition of human rights organisations has called out the government for ‘deliberately and destructively’ preventing family reunification. Following the removal of protections, Amnesty International, Refugee Council and Save the Children published a report upon investigating how the impact of family separation affects child refugees and the role government policies play.

The Without My Family report details first-hand accounts from child refugees who fled war, conflict and serious human rights violations. According to research, the dangerous journey taken by minors is only the beginning of the process. Once arriving in the country, children have to contend with the fact that they have been separated from their families, often with no idea how their loved ones are doing which can exacerbate mental health issues from PTSD to constant anxiety. In one example, a 17-year-old from Sudan said: “Being without your family, it is like you have a body without a soul.”

Not only is the UK further devastating the lives of children who have already been overwhelmed with tragedy, but legal analysis shows that its lack of commitment is in contention with international law. The report concludes that, under international human rights, humanitarian and refugee laws, the UK has “an obligation to ensure that all children subject to its jurisdiction have equal access to the rights enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which contains some of the strongest provisions for the protection of a child’s right to family unity and the corresponding States’ obligations.”

While the family reunification amendment won the Commons vote, it must still pass through the House of Lords where considerations are still being made. With campaigners like Lord Dubs actively pushing for the reinstatement of the policy, there may still be hope. One thing remains certain: there must be a complete overhaul of the policies surrounding child refugees, from guaranteeing the safety of those travelling to the UK to supporting them adequately once they arrive.


Aisha Mohamed