Posted: 27 June 2011

Legal aid reforms put vulnerable young refugees at greater risk

As part of Refugee Week, the Young Heritage Detectives in Rochdale launched their exhibition at the Touchstones museum.

During the past 18 months a group of 30 young people aged between 10 and 19 from different parts of Africa and Asia came together to gain skills in research, public speaking and team work, learning about their own and each others' cultures.

Young refugees were empowered to create an archive of their heritage and contribution to the community in which they live.

This very inspiring work highlights the incredible strength and resilience of young refugees in the UK, who have suffered great hardship, war, abuse and persecution during their childhood.

Many flee their homes to seek asylum with their families, while others are separated from their families and find themselves isolated and fearful in a foreign place. Despite this adversity many thrive in their communities.

Legal aid reforms will limit access to justice for young refugees

One key life-line for children in the immigration process is access to good quality publicly-funded legal advice. However the legal aid system in the UK, which ensures that the most vulnerable in our society have access to justice, is being radically reformed.

The legal aid reforms announced in late 2010 were last week suddenly fast-tracked into the legislative process. Despite over 5,000 responses to the government's consultation and vehement protests from across various sectors and in parliament, the government has chosen to overlook many of the concerns raised.

Legal aid is currently already means-tested. This means that it's already provided only to those who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford it.

The government's reforms will further limit access to justice. Children and young people, including those who are victims of trafficking and exploitation, may no longer be able to receive free legal advice or representation in relation to their case for protection.

As we know from our practice, without legal aid vulnerable young people will either be denied protection or will be forced to take extreme measures to secure funding, such as having to resort to prostitution in order to raise funds for expensive legal representation. What is to come will be infinitely worse for children.

We will be continuing to lobby the government to rethink these proposals.

Ilona Pinter, Policy Advisor, The Children's Society 

By Ilona Pinter - Policy team

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