WE recently published an analysis of Home Office statistics for the year to September 2021 and a shorter summary here.
Our study revealed that where age was disputed and resolved, 1,118 asylum seekers who claimed to be children were found to be 18 years old or older. That is the highest numerical total for a year since the Home Office began publishing statistics in 2006 (just higher than the 2008 peak of 1,100).
The papers received wide coverage even, unusually, prompting a response from the Government saying that it was dealing with the concerns raised.
The crux of the matter is this: Two out of three people had brazenly lied about their age. Where age was disputed and resolved in the most recent year, 66 per cent of those claiming to be minors were in fact adults.
This rose to 69 per cent of resolved age disputes in Quarter 3 2021, when 546 of 791 applicants were found to be adults pretending to be children with most relating to asylum claims made in that quarter. Seventy-four per cent of those arriving in 2020 were aged between 18-39 and 87 per cent of all arrivals were male.
I say ‘brazenly’ because, as often as not, there is no doubting that many asylum seekers are much older than they claim. And yet, the instructions to case officers are that they must be treated as children unless and until there is conclusive evidence to confirm their age. And this despite the Government itself warning of ‘examples of adults freely entering the UK care and school system, being accommodated and educated with vulnerable children’.
One example of the dangers inherent in such a nonsensical approach was the bizarre incident reported in the Daily Mail when parents were ‘dismissed as racist’ by school officials after complaining about a 6ft 1in Iranian migrant posing as a 15-year-old who appeared in their children’s classroom.
Frankly, I would have been utterly horrified had this man been placed in my 15-year-old granddaughter’s class. What can the Home Office have been thinking of? Such dangerous bungling is quite inexcusable. And as for the school officials, I trust they are still hanging their heads in shame for labelling concerned parents as racists.
It is no coincidence that the number of adults found to be falsely claiming to be children more than tripled in the year that illegal Channel crossings surged from 8,461 in 2020 to 28,401 in the year just ended. Do take a look at our tracker.
As you will see, last year’s total of illegal Channel crossings was 95 times that of 2018, when such crossings started to increase in frequency and the then Home Secretary (Sajid Javid) declared it ‘a major incident’.
You may also recall that the present Home Secretary told us in October 2019 that she would make illegal Channel crossings an ‘infrequent phenomenon’ by the spring of 2020. Instead of plunging, they of course shot up.
The gaps in age checks are a huge flaw that not only put our children at risk, but pose a huge public security threat. The Parson’s Green Tube bomber, Ahmed Hassan, said he was a 16-year-old orphan when he came here illegally in 2015 and claimed asylum. Yet the judge who jailed him for life in 2018, said he was certain that Hassan lied about his age to stay here.
Currently (following a 2019 change to the rules) an individual will initially be treated as an adult where their appearance and demeanour strongly suggests they are‘over 25 years of age’. Yes, really, you are to be considered a child if you look under 25.
Regrettably, the Government has dropped an earlier plan to place tighter initial age assessment rules in primary law. It followed a July 2021 Supreme Court ruling that the pre-2019 policy of treating asylum seekers who claim to be children as adults to be lawful if two Home Office officials think that the person looks significantlyover 18. (The case is R (BF (Eritrea] v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 38).
Worryingly, the Home Office had already made clear (in the explanatory notes accompanying the Bill) that: ‘Where … doubt still remains as to their claim to be a child, it must be assumed that the individual is under 18 unless and until a more comprehensive age assessment is carried out.’
So, even after the changes to tighten the law, bogus children could continue to be placed among genuine children in schools and housing, at least for an initial period.
People-smugglers are, of course, familiar with the soft underbelly of our controls and asylum system and are exploit it to the full. They know that unaccompanied minors are more likely to be granted asylum and less likely to be detained or removed if their claim is rejected. That is why they get those coming illegally across the Channel to destroy their documents and claim to be under 18.
There are some tougher measures in the Nationality and Borders Bill now making its way through Parliament. On age assessment, the Government has announced (January 5) the setting up of a new Scientific Advisory Committee (we have been calling for the use of scientific evidence for years). This and other proposals are welcome.
The use of scientific evidence in age checks will bring us into line with other countries – such as Norway, France, Sweden and Italy. The prospect of third-country processing centres and the withholding of visas from countries refusing to accept their nationals is also the right way to go.
However, notwithstanding these sensible measures, significant concerns remain. Will failed asylum seekers be removed? Or will they be allowed to stay under non-asylum categories and be provided with all manner of support, including housing, free medical attention, and financial help? I fear it will be the latter.
And for so long as this happens, the people-smugglers will continue to load up ever bigger boats with the limitless migrants prepared to pay huge amounts to reach the UK.
For the sake of child safety, the Government must ensure that no one is placed among vulnerable children if those responsible for carrying out initial age assessments have significant doubts about the person’s age. It should also be readier to penalise those who destroy their documents.
The Government’s stand should be: If you destroy your identity documents, you will not be considered for asylum or any other form of protection. I am pleased to say that Lord Green of Deddington, our founder and president, supported by a handful of peers (their lordships are more inclined to open borders than firm controls) will be doing his utmost to strengthen the Bill along these lines.