Dozens of Leeds child asylum-seekers wrongly classed as adults by the Home Office
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The youngsters, all of whom are thought to have come to the UK without parents, were placed in hotels in the city with adult strangers as a result of the error.
While unaccompanied children who arrive in the country are supposed to be placed in the care of a local council, some adults risk deportation or being sent to Rwanda, if the government can overturn a court judgement which ruled the policy unlawful.
The Refugee Council said children had been put at risk of abuse because of “hasty decision-making” by Home Office officials in Kent, who assess the ages of asylum-seekers arriving in small boats from across the Channel.
But the government said it was vital adults had no “incentives” to pretend to be children so they can stay in the UK.
The report, which will go before Leeds Council’s children and young people scrutiny board next week, said: “At the point of arrival, the Home Office, in their view, have assessed everyone as an “adult” to ensure that when dispersed they are not moving unaccompanied children.
“However, upon arrival in Leeds the hotels welfare officers are raising concerns when they suspect some individuals are children. In 2023, Children’s Services received 35 referrals raising concerns about the assessed age of some individuals.”
The report said that using the available guidance, they deemed “30 out of 35 individuals to be under 18 years of age”. As a result they were removed from the hotels and placed into the care of the local authority.
There are currently 400 beds across five hotels in Leeds used to accommodate asylum seekers, though the report said the Home Office had recently decided to double that capacity.
It added: “Children’s Services can therefore safely assume that there is likely to be a significant increase of unaccompanied children dispersed into those hotels who have been wrongly assessed as over 18 years of age.”
National media has reported in recent months that hundreds of children across the country may have wrongly classed as adults.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “It’s vital that we remove incentives for adults to pretend to be children to remain in the UK – in the year ending June 2023, 49 per cent of asylum applicants whose age was disputed were found to be adults.
“Given the very difficult task of assessing someone’s age, we are also considering introducing scientific age assessment methods to widen the evidence available to decision-makers and improve their decisions.”
But a spokesperson for the Refugee Council said: “We support many children in the asylum system who are disbelieved about their age.
“As a result of hasty decision-making that sees the Home Office mistaking them for adults, hundreds of refugee children are at risk of abuse and neglect. No child should be denied the support they need or forced to live with adult strangers in asylum accommodation, where they are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
“These are children who simply want to start rebuilding their lives after the traumatic experiences they have been through.
“They put their trust in us hoping they will get the support they need. It’s our responsibility to protect them and give them the necessary care as they go through the system.”