By Katherine Magee
The high court recently ruled that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children cannot be placed in hotel accommodation, after three young asylum seekers secured the right to be placed in the care of social services.
Under current rules, for immigration purposes, the Home Office defines a child as an individual under 18 years of age. However, in the case at hand, Hillingdon council wrongly decided to accommodate three 17 year olds in a temporary hotel alongside over 400 adult asylum seekers.
Evidence was provided that the three children were isolated and scared to leave their rooms, had no access to education, and faced difficulties with regards to food, laundry and clothing.
Mrs Justice Lang held that Hillingdon council failed to fulfil its statutory duties under the Children Act 1989 to safeguard the welfare of children who are “in need”.
Once legal action commenced, Hillingdon council appointed key workers to support the children. Mr Justice Lang argued that this support was inadequate, however, and ordered that the children be placed in the care of social services.
Antonia Benfield, the barrister acting for the children, emphasised that many unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have suffered significant trauma, and their needs and vulnerabilities require safe and stable accommodation.
Being unprecedented, this ruling is likely to have a positive impact on underage asylum seekers. In fact, it is understood that the ruling has already prompted other children in similar situations to take legal action.
Although much work is yet to be done, the ruling signifies a step towards a more compassionate approach to immigration matters, rather than the usual stance which concentrates on deterrence.