New UK Briefing on best interests of unaccompanied and separated children

Date: 15th June 2016
Category: Refugee , migrant and asylum-seeking children

The briefing, entitled 'What the United Kingdom can do to ensure respect for the best interests of unaccompanied and separated children' considers how the content of the UNHCR/UNICEF's 'Safe and Sound' publication can be put into practice in the UK.

Children who find themselves without parental protection are dependent on state authorities to uphold their rights.

In the European Union (EU), the number of unaccompanied children applying for asylum has increased six-fold over the past few years: from 11,700 in 2008 to 88,245 in 2015. In the UK, there were 3,043 asylum applications from unaccompanied asylum seeking children in 2015, an increase of 56% from the previous year (1,945). These applications represented 9% of all main applications for asylum. Regardless of their circumstances, all unaccompanied and separated children share two fundamental characteristics:

1. They are children and should first and foremost be treated as such, in line with the rights and entitlements set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and other human rights instruments.

2. As children temporarily or permanently deprived of their supportive family environment, they are entitled to special protection and assistance.

Of all refugees and migrants, unaccompanied and separated children are among the most vulnerable to violence, abuse and exploitation. These children have been separated from the people and places they know, and face an uncertain, risky future. They are often not identified by or included in child protection mechanisms along their route as they attempt to continue their journey. When unaccompanied and separated children reach their destination, immigration systems need to proactively work with child protection services to ensure that, once the child's immediate needs have been addressed, their longer-term development is supported.

In 2014, UNHCR and UNICEF published Safe & Sound 6 to support governments across Europe to develop their approach to assessing and determining the best interests of unaccompanied and separated children in accordance with international and regional legal standards and obligations. The rising number of unaccompanied and separated children in Europe, including in the UK, has now brought an increased urgency to ensuring governments are rigorous in their assessment of children's best interests.

This briefing considers how Safe & Sound should be put into practice in the UK. It provides a succinct summary of how the concept of 'best interests' is relevant to the reception of, and consideration of protection claims from, unaccompanied and separated children in the UK. In the briefing UNHCR and UNICEF UK acknowledge what the UK has done so far to ensure the best interests of the child. They highlight, however, scope for improvement. In this regard, they make concrete recommendations to UK government departments and agencies at both central and local levels.