Fears more youngsters will be housed in ‘completely inappropriate’ conditions and denied their rights
The Joint Committee on Human Rights said government plans to lower the threshold for young asylum seekers to be identified as over-18 and to use “scientific” methods to carry out age assessments would have “, with “severe” consequences” and lead to more children housed in conditions that are “completely inappropriate”.
The committee’s report said changes “may result in more children being placed into unsafe accommodation with inadequate safeguarding and no access to services such as education, to which they are legally entitled”.
It comes afterThe Independent revealed child asylum seekers have already been forced to share rooms and even beds with adults they do not know as increasing numbers are incorrectly placed in accommodation meant for over-18s by the government.
Hundreds of unaccompanied male and female asylum seekers who say they are children have been discovered in hotels intended for adults in recent months, with many fearful of leaving their rooms and some driven to suicidal ideation, while others have run away.
Under the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is currently going through parliament, the Home Office plans to change its age assessment process so that the test for labelling someone an adult would be amended from a strong suggestion that the individual is over 25, to “significantly over 18”.
The committee’s report warns that it must be borne in mind that there are “severe consequences” of mistakenly treating a child as an adult, which would amount to a denial of that child’s rights to education, support, and accommodation.
The new bill would also give the home secretary the power to make regulations setting out specified scientific methods for assessing age. The accuracy of potential methods, such as x-ray or dental analysis, has been questioned by various medical bodies.
The committee said it was “particularly concerned” that refusal to consent to scientific procedures would be taken into account when determining the credibility of an age-disputed person who may be a child, and recommended removing this from the bill.
It also warned more generally that undermine the UK’s human rights obligations, as well as exacerbating delays in the asylum system.
The bill would see refugees who arrive in the UK via unauthorised routes prevented from being granted asylum, instead given a form of temporary status – with reduced rights – while the UK attempts to remove them from the country.
The report warns that legislating to create different categories of refugee based on how they came to the UK would be inconsistent with the Refugee Convention and potentially a discriminatory breach of human rights.
Joanna Cherry QC, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, said that instead of coming up with new “punitive” measures and “lambasting” the difficulties in rejecting asylum applications, the government should focus on dealing with the “lengthy” backlog of asylum cases.
A government spokesperson said: “The Nationality and Borders Bill will stop the abuse of our system and give victims who have been exploited the support they need to rebuild their lives.
“It is compliant with our legal and international obligations. It will continue to offer protection to the most vulnerable and step up measures to break the deadly trade of people smuggling.”