There’s a rather dismal picture emerging about how the Home Office is conducting itself, namely over the issue of assessing the age of young people arriving in the UK and claiming asylum.
Whilst having apparently committed itself to a concerted approach with Local Authorities and other stakeholders a mere 6 years ago (or just four Home Secretaries), the Home Office has at times since, and now determinedly, to be opting for a divisive alternative.
They are doing their best to co-opt some local authorities and, recruit individual social workers into something radically departing from the 2015 guidance. Moreover, this appears to be ministerially led, states The Independent.
…the home secretary plans to change the way age assessments are conducted so that anyone who appears to be over 18 will be treated as an adult while the assessment process is carried out – rather than those who appear to be over 25.
She will also introduce an independent age assessment body to make age assessment decisions instead of councils, according to the Daily Mail.
In other words, the search for the silver bullet has been resumed with the audible whirring of X-ray machines being cranked up.
As ever the Home Office is at risk of repeating past mistakes and trampling on the human rights of a vulnerable group of people who are claiming asylum in the UK. There is now a further risk of the old arguments playing out, with a polarising populism still holding some sway even post Trump and post Brexit.
The depressing prospect of the Home Office demonising a fairly small number of young people, maybe running into a few hundred, will prompt my side of the argument, if you like, to risk romanticising the young people at the heart of all this.
It is further depressing that main Local Authority representative group, the ADCS, seems to have been kept in the dark about changes. As their main attention is understandably elsewhere just now, they may just be swept along with any changes implemented but will still end up picking up the pieces and the bill, often enough . Pity.
So, is the Home Office in the process of conjuring up a ‘central council for age determination?
It would be ironic post Brexit that while Europe has moved towards the UK model, that the UK will move in the direction of some fairly ancient and disreputable star chamber European processes. A course of action based on discredited medical participation, which is being generally overhauled to look more like what we are supposed to be doing here.
So, who will collaborate with this? Will they seek to follow the science?
They have in the past found the odd doctor or dentist to ‘play the right tune’ but it would be equal to the Dept of Health enlisting anti -vaxers to advise on Covid.
Those involved back in the noughties were prepared to face regional interdisciplinary panels to moderate age assessments, carried out by social workers. And, they may arguably have a place, though not easy to establish.
Is the plan to put all ‘doubtful’ children into one or more designated sites, while their every move is monitored? And this, is what will help establish their real age? The thought is both intriguing and worrying.
And with many children services, organisations and anti-trafficking charities working towards a more favoured child-centred, holistic age assessment approach, surely this will not aid their accomplishments.
The Home Office should pause and reflect on what they worked hard to produce but have never properly valued or appreciated.
The 2015 guidance /protocol actually provides that hardnosed approach they wanted, the desire for which lurks beneath these possible changes. It aimed to instil confidence for social workers and local authorities, providing a clear process and the procedural back up around refugees claiming asylum.
To return to my earlier comment, it was not about romanticising young asylum seekers because they had crossed the globe, but also one of its aims was always to take the courts out of the picture by setting out a clear process.
This then protected the human rights of those being scrutinised at each stage and secured an outcome that would be both safe and lawful. A departure here to some new system faces a whole new game of court challenges by ‘pesky lawyers’.
It sounds like the coming months promises a whole lot of proposals around asylum. And the push to nail age assessment once and for all seems likely to be included. But there is time to re-consider.
Maybe someone in asylum policy may have some further thoughts and be able to wield some positive influence over refugees claiming asylum. Or, perhaps, someone at the DFE might have a good look in the next few weeks and suggest to their ‘colleagues down the street’, that this might not be the best idea they had and point out a few pitfalls.