Child asylum seekers arriving in Dover, some suffering from illness or serious injuries, are being denied basics like rest, food and medicine before they complete oppressive and unlawful interviews with the UK Border Agency (UKBA).

Refugee and Migrant Justice (RMJ) has revealed the scale of the problem in its new report, Safe at Last? Children on the Front Line of Border Control.

The UKBA says that these interviews are needed “to establish the welfare needs for the child ahead of their transfer into the care of social services.” RMJ argues the interviews show scant regard for the children’s welfare.

As well as often being denied basic care, children are interviewed without the support of an independent adult or legal representative. Information obtained from the interviews has been used against them in their applications for international protection. RMJ lawyers argue the treatment of children interviewed on arrival at Dover is unlawful.

Safe at Last? describes the experiences of children arriving in Dover in their own words. One of these children was suffering from a bomb injury and recent stab wounds when he arrived in the UK. Another had injuries from a gunshot wound. Both were detained and were subjected to interview without being offered any medical care.

Caroline Slocock, chief executive of Refugee and Migrant Justice said:

“Unaccompanied children coming into Dover arrive hungry, cold and often ill, having travelled for months in situations of great danger, fleeing war-torn countries like Afghanistan in order to find safety in the UK.

“Their welcome is an interview by the UK Border Agency that often puts welfare at risk and is used to gather information which is later used against them. Such interviews, carried out without any independent adult or legal representative present, and sometimes without the right interpreters, would be entirely unacceptable anywhere else in Britain. Children should not be treated in this way.

“We believe this treatment is unlawful and have repeatedly raised concerns with the UK Border Agency over the last 12 months. They say that the interviews are intended to help protect children but, on the ground, unacceptable treatment continues. Children seeking asylum should be given care first, not subjected to questioning. We are taking this issue to the courts to decide but, in the meantime, we believe the interviews should stop.”

Child story extracts from Safe At Last?:

When he arrived in Dover, Zubeir, now living in Birmingham, was suffering from a leg injury sustained in an allied bombardment in Afghanistan and more recent stab wounds. He was 16 years old.

“I told the interviewer straight away about my injuries. I was asked if I was well, and I told him that I was in a lot of pain and that I had injuries from a bomb on my leg and from the attack in France. I was not asked to show them my injuries. They kept going on with the interview. They didn’t stop.

They kept asking me questions about why I came here, my journey and what happened in Afghanistan. I kept apologising and said that I was feeling very ill from my journey, and was in a lot of pain and I needed help and treatment but they kept asking me lots of questions. After the interview I was told to wait for some hours. They did not tell me that I could see a doctor and I was never asked if I wanted to see one.”

Ali, who was interviewed despite suffering from a painful bladder condition, was only referred for treatment once in Social Services care. He was 14.

“During the interview I said I felt ill. I had a pain in my genital area and I could not hold my bladder. I told the officers this, but they did not do anything. They just wrote something down and asked the next question. I found it difficult to concentrate as my mind was on this pain.”

Amir came to the UK with his 15 year old brother. He was 13 at the time. The UKBA declared his brother to be an adult and ‘dispersed’ him to another part of the UK. He subsequently disappeared.

“I think about my brother everyday, how can I not? He was my world. I sometimes think he went missing because he came looking for me.”

Jamal was in an extremely vulnerable state when interviewed by the UKBA at the age of 14. The information taken from the interview was later used to discredit his asylum claim.

“When I went to my asylum interview I was told that I’d said this in Dover and that I’d said that, but I couldn’t even remember what I’d said. I remember just trying to end it as soon as possible because I was so exhausted. On that day I lost all sense of what I was talking about. I’d no idea that my answers would be held against me like this, or I would have given more detailed answers. The immigration officer made me feel like a liar.”

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