According to a senior official at the UN, we are currently facing the “largest humanitarian crisis since the second world war”. Although that might sound like scaremongering, it simply isn’t; we have over 20 million people in four different countries facing crippling famine and starvation. That, along with the perpetual cycle of bloody war, escalating violence and uncertain futures, has predictably led to an unprecedented influx of migrants and refugees flooding into Europe.
All asylum seekers are vulnerable, but do you know which ones have it the worst? Unaccompanied child asylum seekers. They have to navigate the tricky tightrope of refugee camps, police stations and immigration detention centres with no parental guidance or support. Let that sink in for a second and imagine how hard it would be; after all, most of us never even cooked a meal for ourselves or washed our clothes until we were young adults.
Here in the UK, the government have agreed to accept an unspecified number of unaccompanied child asylum seekers as refugees. According to statistics reported by the Refugee Council, 3,175 children who were unaccompanied by adults claimed asylum in the UK last year.
The charity says that they left their country of origin “because they are no longer safe, due to conflict, political instability or other reasons”. The fact that so many of the children managed to reach the UK– is a minor miracle in itself. Around 2,500 migrants tragically perished trying to cross the Mediterranean in the first three months of last year.
While the child asylum seekers who make it to the UK may be considered the lucky ones, the journey is likely to have had an adverse effect on their physical and psychological health. So, how are the UK helping with this?
As soon as an unaccompanied child who is seeking asylum arrives in the UK, they are given immediate access to an interpreter so they can effectively communicate their needs. Once they have been granted asylum, they are assigned a social worker who will work with them to mitigate their vulnerabilities. From there the government will find them foster parents and collect clothes, books and toys on their behalf.
Perhaps most importantly, they are given access to free healthcare. They do not have to pay to see a doctor and are entitled to help with prescription costs if they lack means. In fact, a High Court judge declared last week that unaccompanied child refugees must be given “priority in getting medical care or NHS therapy”.
This includes treatment regarding any psychological disorders (such as PTSD which a litany of scientific evidence suggests is common amongst refugees). The government also ensures that the child refugee is placed in the education system without delay and works with the Refugee Council who help refugees integrate into British society effectively. It’s not an ideal situation and there are many challenges along the way, but the UK is able to take in child refugees and take a multi-agency approach to meeting their needs.