20 Sep 2012

Children seeking safety(1) in the UK on their own are subjected to a culture of disbelief and suspicion, which leaves them feeling frightened and confused, our new report reveals. 

Into the Unknown: Children’s journeys through the asylum process(2) found that, despite some recent improvements, many of the UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) practices fail to take the needs of children fleeing war, turmoil and violence into account. 

The report highlights the agency’s failure to make sure that children understand what is happening to them in the asylum process. The absence of child-friendly information, a wide-spread culture of disbelief and disputes over their age are central to increasing young people’s confusion and sense of insecurity. 

This causes already traumatised children greater anxiety, with immediate and potentially long-term consequences for their well-being. Worryingly, there are no systems in place for the UKBA to measure the effect of the asylum system on children’s well-being.

'Instead of getting the care and support they need, these children are considered with suspicion'

Many of the children The Children’s Society spoke to said that in their asylum interviews, there was no ‘responsible adult’ to act on their behalf or explain what was happening. In some cases, their interpreter did not speak the correct dialect or language, misrepresenting what they had said. This made them feel like their refusal of protection was unjustified.

The Children’s Society Chief Executive Matthew Reed said: 'The amount of confusion and anxiety expressed by the children we spoke to in the asylum process is very concerning.

'Although the UKBA has made some progress, there needs to be a fundamental shift in attitude in how they work with children fleeing danger who need our help. Instead of getting the care and support they need, these children are considered with suspicion. In some cases they feel like they are being tricked. Children need to understand what is happening to them and have some control over their situation.'

What we are calling for 

The Children’s Society is calling for the UKBA to make its asylum process more child-friendly.

This includes providing specialist training for immigration interpreters who work with these children, establishing an independent complaint and feedback system to inform all stages of the immigration process that children can easily understand, and addressing the ‘culture of disbelief’ that prevents children from being treated fairly.


Media enquiries

For more information, including case studies or an interview, please contact Beth Herzfeld in our media team via telephone 020 7841 4422, 07775 812 357 or email. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508. 

Notes to editors

  • Read Into the Unknown: Children’s journeys through the asylum process
  • The Children’s Society wants to create a society where children and young people are valued, respected and happy. We are committed to helping vulnerable and disadvantaged young people, including children in care and young runaways. We give a voice to disabled children, help young refugees to rebuild their lives and provide relief for young carers. Through our campaigns and research, we seek to influence policy and perceptions so that young people have a better chance in life.


  1. Children and young people seeking asylum in the UK are fleeing war, violence and a range of human rights abuses. (Return to text.)
  2. The report consulted with 33 young asylum seekers aged between 13 and 20 years old who came to the UK alone to seek protection from war, violence and human rights abuses, and are currently being helped by The Children’s Society in Manchester, Birmingham and Oxford. They came from a range of countries, including Algeria, Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia, Sudan and Syria. (Return to text.)