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Unaccompanied children migrating to the UK

In 2014-15 I worked on a European study (known as MinAs) on the extent to which the ‘best interests principle’ in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is respected for unaccompanied migrant children. I did the research and wrote the national report for the UK, together with Professor Marie-Bénédicte Dembour at Brighton University.

The UK emerged as ‘not the best, not the worst’, failing in important respects to fully consider and implement the best interests of unaccompanied children. In particular, the lack of guardianship, the adversarial and cynical immigration and asylum system, and uneven access to high-quality legal advice left unaccompanied children struggling.

We argue that the UK government should:

    develop a child-friendly method of sharing responsibility for unaccompanied children around the UK so that children are not disadvantaged by being concentrated in a few areas (subject to the caveat that this process must respect the children’s opinions and best interests and must not resemble the adult dispersal system);

    apply the guidance from the Police and Evidence Act for appropriate adults in criminal justice cases to those in asylum cases;

    amend the asylum process to respect the best interests of children throughout, including the method of information gathering and the type of information gathered;

    make better and wider use of humanitarian protection in children’s cases as a means of implementing durable solutions which are genuinely in the individual child’s best interests;

    reinstate legal aid for all children’s cases, whether asylum or not, and amend the legal aid contract to permit/better incentivise good quality representation;

    amend the immigration rules to allow for family reunion for children recognised as refugees;

    pilot a system of guardianship for all unaccompanied children.


From this page you can access the UK national report, the four-state comparative report, our evidence submissions to the House of Lords EU-Home Affairs Subcommittee enquiry, and various articles which came out of the research.
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UK national report

Our report on the situation for unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the UK, published in October 2015.

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Comparative report

This is the report on the situation for unaccompanied children across the four countries involved in the research: UK, France, Austria and Slovenia.

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Evidence submission to the House of Lords EU Home Affairs Subcommittee

This is my evidence submission to the House of Lords' inquiry into the situation for unaccompanied migrant children in the EU, based on the research and report.NB THIS HAS NO LINK YET

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Children in Crisis - the report of the House of Lords EU Subcommittee

The House of Lords report, Children in Crisis, extensively cited the MinAs research and the evidence submissions we made.

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International Journal of Refugee Law

I wrote an article for the International Journal of Refugee Law about how the vast majority of unaccompanied children in England were concentrated in seven local authority areas, which were unable to care for them properly, because of pressure on their services in the context of very low funding from the Home Office. I argue that it's very important to think about this in terms of taking responsibility for the children, rather than of 'burden sharing'.

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Bordering in the UK welfare system

I co-wrote an article for a special issue of Critical Social Policy, on how the welfare system is used to create national borders within the UK. But the exclusion of migrants from welfare has shown itself, over recent decades, to be only a testing ground for the exclusion of other 'undeserving' citizens and 'enemies within'.

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A Journey to the Unknown. The Rights of Unaccompanied Migrant Children: Between Theory and Practice

The whole MinAs project team contributed to a book, edited by the Slovenian partners Mateja Sedmak, Blaz Lenarcic, Zorana Medaric, Tjasa Zakelj, published by Annales University Press, 2015) which contains a comparative analysis and chapters from each of the four country teams.

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New Statesman article

My article about the research in the New Statesman argues that the care children receive depends quite heavily on where in the UK they are first discovered by the authorities.

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Conversation article

I wrote an article for The Conversation UK about Eritrean children suffering from poor Home Office decision making.

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Photo:   Fréderike Geerdink