Gillian Hughes on child refugees:
At the age of 13, Janan witnessed his father being beaten to death by members of the Taliban in Afghanistan and his mother dragged off into the night. Recognising the danger to Janan, his relatives sold his parents’ land and paid traffickers to take him to safety. Traumatised and vulnerable, he set off on a horrific nine-month journey.
To another Muslim country?
No, don’t be silly! To England, of course.
Fortunately, once unaccompanied children like Janan arrive in the UK, our health and social care systems offer excellent support, and usually they settle well into their new lives here.
Usually. But not always.
However, as a clinical psychologist who has worked in the NHS for the last 15 years with many young people like Janan, I have become increasingly troubled by what happens as they approach 18 – the age at which they must reapply for asylum. Their temporary leave to remain expires at this age, and they must return to court to argue their case again. This process can have a devastating impact on their mental health. All the good work done since their arrival in the UK to heal trauma and help them to settle rapidly unravels.
Boo hoo hoo!
These young people are forced to recount their stories which are then scrutinised for any possible evidence of fabrication. This makes them feel like they are not believed by the government to which they turned for protection; and often generates anger and despair. The uncertainty about their future can take many months or even years to resolve; they become suspended in a state of limbo, unable to study or work, with recurring thoughts of past loss and traumas. This comes at a time when their transition to adulthood means they lose the support networks of school, foster carers, and social workers, all of whom have often come to be their new extended families.
And all of whom they shouldn’t need any more.
Why should they not learn to stand on their own two feet, finally, as any native child in care would have to at this age?
Our current system is retraumatising children and therefore represents a breach in our duties under the Geneva conventions. With the imminent arrival of a huge number of vulnerable children fleeing Syria, on top of those who are already coming from other parts of the world, we need to act quickly to address this situation.
Hmmm, and just how are we meant to ‘address’ it, then?
We need a system that is able to make more permanent decisions about the asylum applications of children when they arrive in the UK, because their need for protection does not disappear once they reach 18.
*sighs* How did I somehow know that was coming?