Magazine article The Spectator

The 'Child Refugees' Who Are Nothing of the Sort

Magazine article The Spectator

The 'Child Refugees' Who Are Nothing of the Sort

Article excerpt

It's time to fix our broken asylum system

I was interviewing ten foster parents in west London for a report on children in care. Foster parents are in great demand, so I was startled to discover that only one of the sets of parents was looking after the sort of vulnerable children you imagine to be in the care system. The others were looking after unaccompanied asylum-seeker children.

They made an alarming claim: three of these seemed to be adults passing themselves off as boys. 'The first thing they ask for is a razor,' said one foster parent, 'They've got these big beards.' A woman admitted she found it embarrassing having a grown man posing as a 17-year-old. But the authorities appeared uninterested. 'Our concerns are just fobbed off,' said another.

A counter-extremism expert told me: 'There is nothing in the system to stop a 26-year-old Isis fighter coming here, stating he is 17 and claiming asylum.'

Anyone forced to flee his or her country with a well-founded fear of persecution can claim asylum. An orphan under 18 has special rights. They receive the same benefits as a child taken into care. No one would begrudge a genuine child refugee these privileges. The problem is the system is open to abuse, and the latest terrorist attack in Parsons Green raises further questions. Ahmed Hassan is an 18-year-old unaccompanied asylum seeker who is alleged to have built the bomb in his foster parents' kitchen.

We do not know how he came here or what could have led him to do what he is accused of. But it is time, surely, to question our asylum system for refugee children. Yet raise concerns and you risk Gary Lineker labelling you 'hideously racist and utterly heartless'.

The problem is sorting myth from fact. The first myth, emphasised over and over again, is that these are vulnerable children. The word conjures up images of small boys and girls. Our hearts break for them. The reality is somewhat different.

Only 8 per cent of unaccompanied minors who arrived in the UK in 2015 were, in fact, under 14. This is according to Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. Instead, over half were aged 16-17. Nor was there a balance of boys and girls. Some 91 per cent were male. Save the Children admits, 'Many come across as being self-reliant and not in need of support', but it urges that they are often 'extremely vulnerable and in need of reassurance and care'.

Why are the majority of refugee children in fact teenage boys? Here we come up against another myth: that refugees somehow find their own way to the UK. The truth is, nobody arrives in this country without the help of a people trafficker. This means it is the people traffickers who control our immigration system -- not the Home Office. It is they who dictate who comes here. Refugees who cannot afford to pay never make it. If we really want to help the vulnerable, we should be taking children directly from refugee camps.

The central role of people traffickers means that every young person arriving here represents a considerable investment by their family or community back home. This explains why they are nearly all young men. They come from cultures in which men have greater earning power.

As one immigration officer at a busy UK airport with 20 years' experience of dealing with refugee children explained to me: 'Ninety per cent of them are not orphans. Their coming here is very well worked out. Their families have paid the people traffickers to bring them here. The intention is for the families to follow shortly after. These are cash-rich young people.' For the most part, in his opinion, 'They are not fleeing for their lives.' In other words, they are economic migrants and therefore not entitled to asylum.

His view is backed up by the actions of the traffickers themselves. As Save the Children warns, the agent will instruct the young person to lie about their nationality and age and destroy all identity documents. …

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