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The UK immigration law has to protect unaccompanied children

December 08, 2017
topic:Refugees and Asylum
tags:#European Union, #immigration, #UNICEF, #Mediterranean route, #Dublin III Regulation, #refugees
located:United Kingdom, Italy, Libya
by:Federica Tedeschi
More than half of the 22 million refugees currently around the world are children. UNICEF UK has also stated that at least 300,000 unaccompanied kids moving across borders were registered in 80 countries between 2015-16, marking a near fivefold increase in only four years.

Further data has revealed that on the central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy alone, 78 per cent of the adolescents have experienced exploitation, which means every 30 minutes a youngster en route is trafficked or enslaved.

Life is already tremendously difficult for many children in countries affected by conflict and persecution such as Syria, Iraq, Eritrea and Sudan: they have seen their previous way of life swept away, and have lost contact with their parents or whole family; more often they have faced horrifying loss and are at risk of being threatened with violence and recruited to fight in wars.

Those who survived the journey to Europe, however, continue to face danger and uncertainty. Children who rely upon charities to provide food, water, sanitation and education and with no accompanying adults looking out for them are at ever-present risk of abuse, exploitation and even trafficking, according to the Red Cross.

Last year 90,000 unaccompanied children applied for asylum in the UK, against the average 13,000 applications made every year normally. This huge number is only the tip of the iceberg though; in fact, many more young people have reached or tried to reach the country over the same period of time and the amount of applicants outnumbers those who are actually granted refugee status, often obtained after an agonising wait (Full Fact GB).

At present, the UK immigration law only allows for refugee children stranded from family to be reunited with their parents. What would the future hold for those who are orphans, then?

The EU Dublin III Regulation is designed to protect the internationally recognised right to an intact family unit, which is an essential right of the refugee, as stated in the 1951 Final Act of the United Nations Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the status of refugees and stateless persons.

The agreement brings hope into the life of unaccompanied children stranded in Europe, granting the legal right for those who have made an asylum application in one of the EU countries, to request the transfer of such claim to any other EU country where close family members are resident. Dublin III has been so far the main route for children to be reunited with a family member in the UK and 700 boys and girls used it in 2016, according to UNICEF UK.

In August 2016 humanitarian project Safe Passage UK counted over 170 lone children only in the Calais Jungle, with a legal right to join family members already in the UK, where such definition, under Article 8 of the regulations includes parents or legal guardians as well as siblings, aunts and uncles or grandparents.

UNICEF UK and Save the Children are now calling on the UK Government to widen its Immigration Rules and adopt a broader definition of family to ensure vulnerable and unaccompanied refugee children fleeing conflict-affected areas can be safely and legally reunited with any relative located in the UK. They have also appealed to local authorities to ensure these have a full understanding of the resources available to them to deliver their responsibilities to lone and asylum-seeking children.

As a result of Britain leaving the European Union, in fact, Dublin III is likely to come to an end with possibly devastating consequences for children already struggling psychologically with the trauma they have been through along their journeys.

And the situation becomes even more challenging as the 2016 Dubs Amendment to the UK immigration law, which committed to resettle unaccompanied child refugees from France, Italy and Greece in the UK, was brought to a premature end by the UK Government early this year. The British Red Cross has stated that under the amendment only 350 children were eventually brought to the UK.

UNICEF UK has reported the stories of many of these children they have aided, and 17-year-old Nabil is one of them: “He found himself alone in Lebanon after having to flee his bombed home in Syria; several of his family members had been killed. Those left alive were scattered far and wide, including his older brother living in Scotland. Boarding a plane to join his brother was not an option for Nabil because siblings are not eligible for refugee family reunion under the current UK Immigration Rules. So, he made his way alone by land or sea to France and almost drowned when the boat he was on, capsized in the Aegean Sea.

In France he endured six months in the ‘Jungle’ in Calais, was held in detention and risked his life repeatedly by boarding lorries to the UK in a desperate attempt to reach his brother. After having been allowed to come to the UK under the Dublin III Regulation, he is now in Scotland waiting for a decision on his asylum application”.

Article written by:
Federica Tedeschi
United Kingdom Italy Libya
Embed from Getty Images
Life is already tremendously difficult for many children in countries affected by conflict and prosecution such as Syria, Iraq, Eritrea and Sudan.
Embed from Getty Images
Those who survive the journey to Europe, however, continue to face danger and uncertainty.
Embed from Getty Images
At present the UK immigration law only allows for refugee children stranded from family to be reunited with their parents.
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