Safeguarding Refugee Youth: Turning 18 in the Asylum System

Turning 18 and becoming a legal adult is a significant transition for all children. This transition is multiplied when one is leaving Social Services’ care upon turning eighteen–and it’s even more difficult when the young person is not officially a citizen.

Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) is the term most frequently used for young people under the age of eighteen who arrive without families in the UK to claim asylum. In 2010, 1,595 unaccompanied young people applied for asylum in the UK, most of whom were 16 or 17 years old. These children come from all over the world and have traveled dangerous journeys over land and sea to get to the UK. The top countries of origin for separated children are Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Eritrea, and China (including Taiwan). These young people are a major group within the care of Social Services—and they remain especially important when it comes time for them to transition out of care.

Upon arriving in the UK and submitting an asylum claim, most young asylum seekers enter into the care of the local authority in which they applied for asylum.  Asylum claims are usually processed within 35 days and end with either the granting of refugee status or refusal of refugee status. If refugee status is refused, discretionary leave to remain or humanitarian protection may be granted to the applicant. Most UASC are granted discretionary leave to remain, which is typically for three years or until the child is 17 ½–whichever period is shorter.

Young asylum seekers are usually placed in a foster home if they are under the age of 16. While 16 and 17-year-olds may be placed in foster care, it is more common for them to be put in semi-independent accommodation (i.e. living in a hostel or group home). Financial support varies based on which local authority the separated child lives in, and whether or not the young person is working. Most separated children attend school in their local area, frequently after spending time in English courses. Though being separated from their families is tough, most separated children in care have the support needed to begin new lives in the UK.

Alhough discretionary leave to remain can be extended and refugee status denials can be appealed, most of these changes happen at or around when they turn 18, making legal adulthood even more complicated. Frequently the young person’s legal status is in doubt upon leaving care, forcing  the young people and their advisors to come up with multiple plans based on the different possible outcomes in status. These plans are referred to as “pathway plans,” and if status is in doubt, there are usually three different possibilities for the young person leaving care.

[h4]Watch the presentation below to see some of the pathways for UASC leaving care.[/h4]