What is the social/environmental problem/issue that this project will address?
Each year around 3,000 unaccompanied children claim asylum in the UK (Into the Unknown: Children’s Journeys through the Asylum Process, The Children’s Society, 2012). They arrive having fled war, human rights abuses and persecution, and making long and traumatic journeys to get here, often experience violence and abuse on the way.
Despite this, unaccompanied children continue to be granted refugee status at a noticeably lower rate than overall applicants. In 2011, 25% of asylum applications were granted refugee status compared to only 18% of unaccompanied children (Into the Unknown: Children’s Journeys through the Asylum Process, The Children’s Society, 2012).
Children often struggle to get the support they need in the UK. This is due to a range of factors, from their difficulties to communicate when they first arrive, to the cultural restrictions that may prevent them from demanding adequate and appropriate help from adults and those in positions of authority. Furthermore, many young people seeking sanctuary alone, suffer social, psychological and emotional trauma due to their experiences, which makes navigating a new and complex system all the more challenging.
Arriving in the UK these children expect to be welcomed into a place of safety and security, but instead are met by a pervasive culture of disbelief. Many young people’s experiences are deemed simply untrue, whilst others have their very status as a child queried too. These ‘age-disputed’ young people, if considered to be older than 18, are denied the support that is their right, as the responsibility of the local authority is minimised when dealing with those perceived to be adults.
Young people must be treated as children first and migrants second. We have an international obligation to protect vulnerable young people, regardless of their immigration status.
Can you give us some statistics on this problem?
In 2008, there were an estimated 5,500 Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children seeking asylum and being cared for by local authority.
In 2008, only 10% of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children were granted refugee status on arrival and only 1% granted humanitarian protection. The remainder are forced into an untimely appeals process.
Of 165 age-disputed cases dealt with at Oakington Removal Centre in 2005, more than 50% were found to be children.
What is your solution?
There are many suggested methods to improve the day to day lives of young people seeking asylum, from ending child detention and improving age assessment processes, to introducing a named guardian for all young people seeking refuge in the UK. However, the first key step in achieving any long term change for young people seeking sanctuary is to create a cultural shift in the way they are perceived, separating them from the main asylum debates so they are treated as children first.
We believe that this is where we can add value. By using a well researched and compelling drama to raise awareness amongst a wide audience of the experiences of young people seeking asylum, we hope to draw attention to their specific experiences, highlighting the challenges they face in order to encourage a new found empathy and understanding amongst the public towards this particular group.
We hope that this groundwork will act as a basis for further campaigning, ideally calling for the Government to appoint a ‘guardian’ for all separated children (including age-disputed) to help them during the asylum process. This is a solution that has been well-researched by refugee sector organisations and called for by many others including the Refugee Children’s Consortium (which represents over 25 refugee and children’s organisations) and the Children’s Commissioner for England. A ‘guardian’ will support the child through the immigration process and help them navigate the complicated social, legal and welfare systems as well as offer independent advice and basic support which will help the child adjust to life in the UK.
How will you deliver this?
We have an award-winning team at the healm of this production, and with a host of such talent we are confident in our ability to make a feature which powerfully and creatively communicates the lives of young people seeking refuge. We have already begun and continue to build meaningful partnerships with refugee organisations and children’s charities and engage in an ongoing dialogue with them about how they may best be able to use this film to inspire change in the lives of young people seeking sanctuary alone in the UK.