My foster brother arrived in the UK, alone, when he was 14.
He was skinny and nervous, small and shy…but the journey he had been through (fleeing compulsory military service, crossing the sahara desert, not eating for 15 days, watching two friends die, crossing the med, his boat capsizing, crossing Europe on foot, living in the Calais Jungle and hiding under a train to get to England)… had aged him for sure.
His age was disputed and social services ran rigorous tests to prove he was the age he said he was.
He is. And he was finally able to go to school, play in an under 15’s football team, and recover in the family environment he so needed.
Although his life, his journey and his experiences may have robbed him of his childhood, he is clearly still a child, a beautiful young boy needing love and care and nurture.
New evidence has recently come to light that disputing the ages of child refugees coming into the UK is costing the taxpayer millions of pounds.
The government has lost more than 260 age disputes since 2010/2011, at a cost of over 4 million pounds. Ironically, they are overestimating these ages in the first place to try and save money. Each case now costs £24,771 to settle.
It’s not just a case of money, but the impact it has on these kids, who feel like liar’s and are guilty until proven innocent… is seriously damaging. Many, like my little brother, have gone through severe trauma, and whilst their ages are disputed, they are denied their basic rights to child protection, adequate child services and education. At least 127 minors were held in adult detention (basically prison) between 2010 and 2014.
In the UK, if you are a boy and arrive under the age of 16, you have the opportunity to be placed with a family (like in my case), but over 16’s are put into centres like the notorious Milbank. This is a very difficult environment in which to deal with grief, PTSD and depression, as are common amongst these teens.
I am struggling to understand how these expensive processes have any benefits, when both the human and financial impact is so clear.
It’s so important for us to all continue to lead with compassion and love for the children making these crazy journeys to flee war, persecution and genocide in thier countries.