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Two years later, child refugees still being locked up: Refugee Council report

20 May 2012

By Refugee Council


Two years after the coalition government declared they would end the detention of children for immigration purposes, the Refugee Council today reveals that there are still significant numbers of child refugees being locked up by the UK Border Agency in detention centres across the UK.

The charity’s report, Not a minor offence, focuses on children they are working with who have arrived in the UK on their own, but who are not believed to be the age they say they are by social workers or immigration officials. They are then wrongly treated as adults in the asylum system, meaning they face being detained with other adults, and being removed to their own country, in breach of child protection laws.

The Refugee Council works with children who are wrongly being treated as adults to secure their release from immigration detention. New figures* published today show that:

  • in the first three months of this year, six were released from detention after being found to be children, four cases are outstanding.
  • in 2011, 22 were released from detention after being found to be children
  • in 2010, 26 were released from detention after being found to be children

The Refugee Council is calling on the government to end the detention of children once and for all, by ensuring safeguards are put in place to prevent unaccompanied children from being detained.

Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council says: 
It is a scandal that two years after the government agreed to end the detention of children because of its harmful effects, they still believe it is acceptable to lock up children who have come here on their own.

“These are children who have fled horrifying situations in their own countries, and have made traumatic journeys to reach safety here. They are then met with disbelief by the people who are supposed to help them, and locked up with other adults in detention centres. The UK would never treat a British child in this way. We have an obligation to protect these children, so it is imperative that they are not held in detention and that they are given the benefit of the doubt.”

The Refugee Council report details the experiences of young people who have had their ages disputed and subsequently been detained, explains the age assessment process, and gives policy recommendations for ensuring unaccompanied children are not detained.

The Refugee Council is also today launching the launching an animation that tells the story of one of the young people who was released from detention as a child. This is part of a year of events to mark the 18th birthday of the Refugee Council’s Children’s Section. Since 1994 the charity has worked over 18,000 children to support them through the asylum system and help them rebuild their lives here.

For further information and the full report, visit

The asylum seekers and migrants who were left to die…

29 March 2012



The report by the Council of Europe’s Special RapporteurLives lost in the Mediterranean Sea: who is responsible? Is now available to download from the COE website.

The report starts by noting that a shocking 1500 migrants are known to have lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean in 2011 alone, but focuses on thetragic event in March 2011 which led to the death of 63 out of the 72 migrant passengers.  In summary, a ship left Tripoli in Libya, it was at sea for 2 weeks during which no one came to the aid of the boat despite the logging of a distress call, and despite coming into  contact with other vessels. It drifted back to Libya with only 9 survivors on board.

A Catalogue of failures

The report lists a catalogue of failures which meant that opportunities to save 63 lives were lost. The report identifies the following:

  • the Libyan authorities failed to maintain responsibility for their Search and Rescue zone
  • the Italian and Maltese Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres failed to launch any search and rescue operation
  • NATO failed to react to the distress calls, even though there were military vessels under its control in the boat’s vicinity when the distress call was sent including one that was estimated to have been 11 miles away
  • the flag States of vessels close to the boat also failed to rescue the people in distress.
  • two unidentified commercial fishing vessels also failed to respond to the direct calls for assistance from the boat in distress.
  • gaps in the maritime legal framework and a failure by NATO and the individual States militarily
  • involved in Libya to anticipate adequately for an exodus of asylum seekers and refugees- in particular the alleged failure of the helicopter and the naval vessel to go to the aid of the boat in distress, regardless of whether these were under national command or the command of NATO.


The report goes on to make a series of recommendations. The recommendations will be debated in April in a plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly, probably on Tuesday 24 April. In summary the report’s recommendations for change include:

  • a possible amendment of international law with a view to ensuring that that the vacuum for responsibility  for a Search and Rescue zone is plugged where a state (in this case Libya) cannot/does not exercise its responsibilities for search and rescue
  • the development of clear and simple guidelines about what amounts to a distress signal – this would avoid confusion about when obligations to launch search and rescue operations apply
  • the need to develop a common understanding that a ‘vessel in distress’ is one which safety requires that the vessel is assisted
  • tackling  the reasons that commercial vehicles fail to go to the rescue of boats in distress through dealing with economic consequences for rescue, fear of criminalisation, and legislation to criminalise private shipmasters who fail to comply with obligations under the law of the sea, and harmonisation of maritime  law
  • ensuring as per the Hirsi judgment in the ECtHR people are not pushed back to countries at which there is a risk of violation of Article 3 ECHR
  • addressing the issue  of asylum burden sharing given problems frontline state face
  • improving identity and data collection sharing  in order to respect the rights of families’ to know the fate of those who lost their lives
  • ensuring  that the lack of communication between NATO and Maritime Coordination Centres is addressed through introduction of a mechanism t coordinate assets in  Search and Rescue Zones

NATO enquiry

The report also recommends that:

  • NATO provides a comprehensive response to outstanding requests for further information on the involvement of other vehicles
  • NATO conducts an enquiry into the incident
  • NATO takes into account in its operations possible refugee movements and reaches agreement with other countries to ensure that refugees are protected
  • National parliaments launch investigations into responsibility of their countries

Child asylum seekers win compensation for 13-month detention

6 January 2012


The Ay family, Kurdish refugees from Turkey, win six-figure payout from the Home Office eight years after childhood ordeal.

Four children who were incarcerated in detention centres for 13 months – the longest time children have ever been locked up in the UK – have won a six-figure compensation payout from the Home Office more than eight years after their release.

Child asylum-seekers targeted in Home Office budget cuts

11 October 2010


Thousands of child asylum-seekers are to be removed from Britain under savage budget cuts being drawn up by the Home Office ahead of this week's comprehensive spending review. 

A briefing document sent to ministers sets out detailed proposals to remove child refugees before they reach 17 years old, and recommends bearing down on benefits given to asylum seekers.

The UK Borders Agency (UKBA) plans to cut a third of its staff by 2014, prompting fears of security risks at British ports and airports. To read the full story visit

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