The high court has ruled, in the first case of its kind, that unaccompanied child migrants cannot be placed in adult accommodation, after three young asylum seekers won the right to be placed in the care of social services.
The three who cannot be identified arrived in the UK in July and August 2020 and say they are 17 years old.
Hillingdon council in west London has accepted that an age assessment for all three is required. However, while the current rules state that asylum seekers who have such assessments must be treated as children, the council argued that they should be placed in a hotel along with more than 400 adult asylum seekers.
Lawyers who acted for the youths gave evidence to the court that all three were isolated and fearful of leaving their rooms, that they had minimal contact with anyone, were having difficulties with the provision of food, laundry and clothing, and had no access to education, such as English lessons.
In her judgement, Mrs Justice Lang said of Hillingdon council’s decision to place the children in a hotel with adults: “This is a significant departure from past practice by local authorities which if adopted more widely will effect other asylum seekers too”.
She added: “In my judgement the claimants have a good arguable case that the council is failing to discharge its duties under the Children’s Act 1989 and instead is seeking to sidestep its statutory duty”.
Hillingdon council argued that the council could provide support to them while they were at the hotel. The council appointed key workers to support the children in the hotel after the legal action was launched, but Lang said that while some improvements had been made by the council, some basic provision was still lacking.
She rejected the council’s arguments that the children could remain in the hotel and ordered that they be taken into the care of Hillingdon social services. This has now been done.
She granted permission for the case to proceed to a full judicial review.
The barrister acting for the three children, Antonia Benfield, said: “Many children arriving in the UK as unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have undergone traumatic journeys. They are particularly vulnerable and require safe and stable accommodation. Increasingly, children are being accommodated alongside asylum-seekers in temporary hotel accommodation. This case importantly recognises the particular needs and vulnerabilities of the children who have recently arrived in the UK”.
Policy manager at the Refugee Council, which provides support for many unaccompanied asylum seeking children, Judith Dennis, said: “Hotels and other asylum support accommodation are designed for adults, not frightened, lone children. Children who are not identified as such are potentially very vulnerable and we must make sure that they are properly protected and looked after”.
It is understood that there are several other children in a similar situation that are considering legal action against local authorities.
A Kent county council spokesperson said: “Kent county council does not and has never accommodated unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in public hotels. The council has received a legal challenge from an individual placed by the Home Office into adult accommodation in the county, however, as legal proceedings are ongoing no further comment will be made”.