Ministers are being warned that unaccompanied minors could be “caught up” in the UK’s plans to deport thousands of asylum seekers to Rwanda, placing them at risk of abuse and exploitation, despite assurances that they will not be among those removed under the agreement.
The multi-million-pound deal between the UK and Rwanda, announced last Thursday, will see asylum seekers in the UK flown 4,000 miles away to have their asylum claims processed by the east African country.
The move has been widely condemned by high profile figures including the UNHCR, which said it was “unacceptable” and a breach of international law, and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who described the plan as “ungodly”.
Hours after the deal was announced, it emerged that Britain had condemned Rwanda for failing to investigate human rights violations and protect trafficking victims months before the agreement was signed.
The government has said unaccompanied children will not among those deported to Rwanda, but organisations supporting child asylum seekers said youngsters would be at risk of being inadvertently sent there due to inaccurate age assessments.
Azmina Siddique, policy and impact manager at the Children’s Society, said it was “shameful” that the government was pressing ahead with the plan, adding: “We are particularly worried about children who could be mistakenly assessed as adults and sent to Rwanda.
“We know from the young people we support, that refugees have often fled war and persecution and already endured perilous journeys and experienced untold trauma to get here. To then be sent another 4,000 miles across the world, is unthinkable.”
The Home Office’s system for assessing the age of asylum seekers has been criticised for wrongly assessing children to be adults.
The Independent reported in January that child refugees had been forced to share rooms and even beds with adults they did not know, as increasing numbers were incorrectly placed in accommodation designed for over-18s.