The dramatic increase in the number of unaccompanied minors has created two distinct issues for these children, as well as for immigration officers, judges, social workers, and advocates. These groups are forced to wrestle, first, with the problems posed by unaccompanied minors’ care and custody, and second, with the evaluation of any legal claims they might have.
How countries care for unaccompanied minors varies dramatically. Some countries automatically detain unaccompanied minors in jail-like facilities. Others place them in national foster care systems without treating them differently from the way they treat their own citizens.
Countries generally handle refugees’ legal claims similarly: the international response has come to focus on "containing the influx" of refugees by narrowing existing legal standards. As such, it has either become more difficult for unaccompanied minors to receive asylum, or they may be denied the ability to apply at all. Because an unaccompanied minor faces difficulty in bringing and substantiating an asylum claim, only five percent of unaccompanied minors’ applications for asylum are granted in developed countries.
The United Kingdom is at risk of being singled out as one such country where the rights of asylum-seeking children are dictated more by immigration legislation and policy than by human rights or indeed relevant childcare legislation.
A report by Save the Children revealed that the number of children in the UK being detained for purposes of immigration control is increasing. This, we know, is in breach of several articles enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
It is important that all vulnerable children are cared for and their best interests promoted. Detaining unaccompanied asylum-seeking children further discriminates and isolates them and is not in itself a viable solution towards decreasing the numbers of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the United Kingdom.