Charity Accuses UK Government of Trying to Deport Unaccompanied Minors to Rwanda

Charity Accuses UK Government of Trying to Deport Unaccompanied Minors to Rwanda
Undated file photo showing a group of people thought to be illegal immigrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, England. (Gareth Fuller/PA Media)
Lily Zhou

The UK government was accused by a charity on June 4 of attempting to deport two underage boys to Rwanda.

Care4Calais, a refugee charity that said it was working with 70 of the 100 people who had received the government’s notices of intention to send them to Rwanda, said the Home Office didn’t properly assess the ages of two young males, both of whom claimed they were 16 years old.

But the Home Office said no one would be sent to Rwanda if it wasn’t safe to do so and that adults claiming to be children was “a serious safeguarding risk.”

According to the charity, the Home Office assessed the two individuals to be 23 and 26 years old. The charity also said its lawyers would “fight” for “proper age assessments” before the duo can be put on a plane.

“It is essential that proper age assessments are done before any deportation takes place,” Care4Calais said in a statement.

“Our lawyers will fight for that. One 16-year-old saw his brother killed in front of him when his village was raided in Sudan. He escaped and went back later to find the whole village gone.”

Another charity, Love146 UK, claimed that the Home Office had been arbitrarily putting down other young people’s ages as 23, making them eligible for deportation to Rwanda.

“We are seeing children as young as 14 being incorrectly age-assessed as 23. The number of children we have seen who have just had 1999 put down as their date of birth when they are clearly under 18 is highly concerning, and putting young people at risk,” campaigns manager Daniel Sohege told The Guardian.

Lauren Starkey, a social worker for the charity, told the publication, “It is not within the realm of possibility that anyone, especially someone trained in child protection, could look at the children we have seen and believe they are in their 20s.”

In an email to The Epoch Times, a Home Office spokesperson said: “Our world-leading partnership with Rwanda is a key part of our strategy to overhaul the broken asylum system and break the evil people smugglers’ business model.

“No one will be sent to Rwanda if it is not safe to do so. Adults passing themselves off as children is a serious safeguarding risk and in almost two-thirds of disputed cases from March 2021–22, the person was found to be over 18.

“Where a person has no credible evidence of their age, a thorough age assessment process will be followed. They will be treated as though they are a child until a decision on their age has been made.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel talking to the media in Green Park, central London, on June 1, 2022. (James Manning/PA Media)
Home Secretary Priti Patel talking to the media in Green Park, central London, on June 1, 2022. (James Manning/PA Media)

The British government in April signed a deal allowing the UK to put illegal immigrants on one-way flights to Rwanda, where they can be granted asylum or given access to other routes of settling down.

Official guidance (pdf) said an individual who fears mistreatment in Rwanda over “their ‘political’ associations or view” can avoid being shipped to the east African country if they can demonstrate “how and why they would likely attract the negative attention of the Rwandan authorities.”

Unaccompanied under-18s arriving in the UK will not be considered for relocation to Rwanda either, according to official guidance.

It’s unclear what the age assessment processes were regarding the two disputed cases, but the Home Office guidance on age assessment said a claimant without documentation should be treated as an adult if a Merton compliant age assessment and Home Office officials both find the claimant to be 18 or over; or if two Home Office staff, including at least a high-ranking one, have “independently assessed that the claimant is an adult because their physical appearance and demeanour very strongly suggests that they are significantly over 18 years of age and there is little or no supporting evidence for their claimed age.”

The guidance also said that it’s not currently the department’s policy to commission paediatrician reports, dental age assessments, or X-ray reports. If these reports are submitted, they “must be fully considered alongside any other relevant evidence and given appropriate weight.”

The Home Office has said the first flight to Rwanda is expected to take off on June 14. According to Care4Calais, nine people they’re supporting have received notices saying they’re to be deported on that date, while 13 were told their deportation is imminent.

The charity also said there had been a five-day hunger strike and its workers had had “numerous late night conversations with people who feel suicidal.”

The government previously said the Rwanda policy is aimed at deterring dangerous people-smuggling across the English Channel on flimsy boats. It also argued that migrants coming from Europe on these boats can and should apply for asylum in the first safe country they pass through.

But Care4Calais argued that people smugglers would be “put out of business overnight” if the UK “gave all refugees visas to cross the Channel, in the same way we do with Ukrainians.”