Thousands of unaccompanied foreign children do not have access to legal assistance in the United Kingdom, according to The Children's Society, which has asked the government for greater protection for migrant children.
Thousands of unaccompanied foreign children are without the support and access to legal advice that they badly need, according the report "Cut Off from Justice" produced by The Children Society in collaboration with the University of Bedfordshire.
The report "highlights the needs of unaccompanied and separated children in a system that often renders them invisible, harming both their childhood and their future.''
Children without access to legal assistance
The report shows that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act of 2012 "dramatically cut legal aid, with all non-asylum immigration claims falling out of scope.This has cut off children from the justice system, often leaving them alone and unable to pursue their immigration claim". It also notes that "the supposed safety net to help the most vulnerable children, Emergency Case Funding (ECF), is not working and leaves children at serious risk.''
According to the UK Ministry of Justice, "almost 2,500 children's immigration cases would fall out of scope for legal aid within a year under the new scheme.'' The survey underscored that minors have the most difficulty getting access to legal aid since most of the free assistance services are in London and the southeastern part of the country, and that ''the number of services overall has shrunk by up to 50 percent in four years''.
Moreover, since 2013 the administrative costs of the Home Office have risen by 45 percent, to 2,300 pounds sterling per application.
Risk of being deported
"The government must reinstate legal aid for unaccompanied and separated migrant children who are cut off from justice,'' said Richard Crellin, policy manager of The Children's Society, in an op-ed in Huffington Post. In the worst cases, children find themselves "at risk of exploitation as they try to raise the funds they need to access expert help and to pay for legal fees. Without any money, some are attempting to solve their complex cases on their own, making their chances of success far less likely''.
The survey "shows that those affected include unidentified victims of trafficking, children who are in local authority care after becoming separated from their families and, in some cases, children born in the UK who may be able to claim British citizenship.'' The Children's Society estimates that there are between 13,500 and 16,600 unaccompanied minors in the UK. "If these children cannot fund their legal costs, they risk being deported to countries that are unsafe for them to return to, or which they have never lived in, once they turn 18,'' Crellin. ''We need urgent change before any more children are left in this desperate situation.''