Unaccompanied Refugee Children
Unaccompanied refugee children are those children and young people under 18 who are seeking refuge outside their country of origin, and are separated from their parents or their usual carers. They may be living informally with other relatives, or people to whom they have been entrusted by the family. This may include older siblings. Sometimes a child is sent to join a parent whom they are meeting for the first time. Others are looked after by foster parents, in children's homes, or are placed in hostels with varying degrees of support.
Children who arrive in the UK on their own should be in the care of social services until they are 18. Usually they should be given a further support package to help guide them into an independent life. There are sometimes difficulties if their age is disputed by the Home Office.
The Refugee Council has a panel of advisors for unaccompanied asylum seekers, providing independent guidance and support to ensure that the child is aware of his or her rights and entitlements.
The average age for unaccompanied children is 14, but there are cases of much younger children arriving.
Unaccompanied children are the most vulnerable. They may be facing all of the difficulties of their new life alone. There may have been no opportunity to explain why they left their country and family. They may not know what has happened to their family, or they may be in mourning. They may not get on with their new carers.
Schools will have a designated worker to monitor the needs and well-being of looked after children, including unaccompanied children.
The relationships unaccompanied children make in school with a caring adult, their class teacher, form tutor, EAL teacher for example, are often very important in their lives.
They should also be told of the Red Cross family tracing service, and prioritised for any holiday, mentoring or befriender schemes.
Save the Children have published an updated (2005) guide to the rights and entitlements of separated refugee children, 'Young Refugees', which gives all the information you might need in a simple format. You can get this free by contacting Chris Macarthur on 020 8741 4054 x112 (email: email@example.com), or download it from www.savethechildren.org.uk/publications.
It should be noted that the Home office defines an unaccompanied refugee child somewhat differently: 'a person who, at the time of making the asylum application is, or (if there is no proof) appears to be, under 18, is applying for asylum in their own right and has no adult relative or guardian to turn to in this country'.