Academic journal article Refuge

Leaving Care: Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Young Afghans Facing Return

Academic journal article Refuge

Leaving Care: Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Young Afghans Facing Return

Article excerpt

Introduction and Context

In the United Kingdom, local authorities (la), which include ports of arrival or asylum-screening centres, are responsible for the care of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) arriving in their area. Kent County Council (KCC), in the southeast corner of the United Kingdom, covers the Port of Dover, so is responsible for a relatively large percentage of the United Kingdom's asylum-seeking children. The strategy document for Kent 2015-16 estimated that by March 2015, KCC would be caring for 365 UASC, representing 20 per cent of the overall care population. (2) The increase in numbers of applications during the summer of 2015, however, has resulted in KCC now caring for over 720 unaccompanied children and having to open two new residential units to support new arrivals. (3) State support for children in care in the United Kingdom can continue into adulthood, and the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 (CLCA) and the Children and Family Act (2014) protect care-leavers. These young people can become classified as Appeal Rights Exhausted Care Leavers (ARECL) after reaching eighteen if their application to extend their temporary leave to remain in the United Kingdom (and subsequent appeals) fail. At this stage they risk detention and enforced return and, if a formal human rights assessment determines they have no further right to support in the United Kingdom, they can lose accommodation and support. For these young people, their status as adults refused protection trumps their claims as care-leavers and they face destitution, detention, and enforced return. Many are unwilling to return voluntarily and, even after their refugee cases have failed, actively seek fresh evidence and other means to prolong their stay in the United Kingdom. A significant proportion of UASC supported by KCC are from Afghanistan, a dangerous country undergoing political, social, and economic transition but one the UK government considers safe enough for migrants whose refugee or humanitarian claims have failed. This is despite evidence from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and others (4) and the widely reported comments of the Afghan minister for refugees and repatriation, Hussain Alami Balkhi, who (cited by the Home Office themselves) (5) stated a desire to renegotiate memorandums of understanding on returns with European countries to reflect the deterioration of security in Afghanistan.

The UASC population in Kent, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, includes girls and young women, but they are far fewer than boys and young men. Girls are almost always placed in foster care, unlike boys who are fostered only if found to be under sixteen. Girls are also less likely to be returned. For reasons of political and professional sensitivity, data on UASC are hard to access, and published data do not disaggregate ARECL numbers from the general data on people supported under adult support provisions or returned to Afghanistan. There is a sharp demarcation between the treatment of asylum-seekers determined as either over or under eighteen and they have access to very different services. (6) The abrupt change in immigration category from child to adult also means that it is difficult if not impossible to follow the progress of care-leavers into the adult system.

The United Kingdom's emphasis on return as a durable solution for UASC reaching adulthood is in line with Europe-wide policy, but forced return of young people remains unpalatable to the public and thus problematic for policy-makers. Return, or repatriation, is one of the UNHCR "durable solutions" to refugee movements, emphasizing voluntary movement and a return "home." (7) For many young people, however, return to countries of birth does not equate to return to a "home," as many feel that their home is now their country of asylum. (8) Returnees may have retained few ties, and family members may have been lost or killed, and the empirical evidence noted by Lemberg-Pedersen highlights "that family tracing in Afghanistan is all but impossible. …

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