The United Kingdom has announced that it will be introducing measures to stop adult-age asylum seekers from posing as underage minors. The government said it would use new scientific assessments to determine the actual age of applicants.
The British government said that roughly two thirds of the asylum claims lodged by people claiming to be underage were found to be fraudulent in the first nine months of 2021. In concrete numbers, this referred to 1,696 cases in total — out of which only one third actually turned out to be of childhood age (up to the age of 18), with a total of 1,118 applicants found to be lying about their age.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a statement that this « practice of single grown adult men, masquerading as children claiming asylum is an appalling abuse of our system which we will end. »
Patel also added that « (b)y posing as children, these adult men go on to access children’s services and schools through deception and deceit – putting children and young adults in school and care at risk. »
Referring to a report carried by the Daily Mail, a daily UK tabloid typically read by a more conservative audience in the UK, Patel said that the introduction of scientific measurements of age would also be included in the UK’s new Borders Bill.
Read more: How is age of asylum seekers determined?
New committee to establish framework
The Daily Mail article cited that the methods to be used to determine the age of asylum seekers would include « x-ray examinations and other types of radiology, plus CT and MRI scans. »
But before a final assessment methodology can be established, a committee will first be established to look at a range of scientific methods for determining age and assessing the accuracy and reliability of various options, according to the Reuters news agency. That report also specified that medical and ethical issues would also be taken into consideration.
Last year, the British Dental Association said it would be « inappropriate and unethical » to use x-ray imaging of patients that had no medical purpose.
Regardless of the final legislation, it has already been established that asylum seekers in the UK would have to agree to having the medical tests performed on them and will not be forced to undergo the procedures involved. However, failure to volunteer into taking the test may lead to « damage to the person’s credibility, » the draft legislation reads.
Burden on welfare system
Under current UK law, asylum seekers who outwardly appear to be under the age of 25 are initially treated as underage until the actual age can be established.
This results in a number of advantages, which anti-immigration politicians believe migrants and refugees know and try to deliberately abuse. The Home Secretary also pointed out in a speech that this was potentially a major financial burden on the public:
« I am changing UK laws … to stop these abuses and to give the British public confidence that we will end the overt exploitation of our laws and UK taxpayers, » she said. According the Daily Mail, each underage migrant costs the UK tax system an estimated GBP 46,000 (€55,000) annually. This compares to GBP 26,000 being the average salary in the UK.
Underage migrants — and those who claim to be underage — receive better housing options and can potentially be housed with foster families, are enrolled in education and generally receive better results during asylum hearings.
Bringing to UK into line with EU — despite Brexit
The changes that are planned by the UK government would actually bring the country, which left the European Union almost two years ago, into line with other European nations.
In addition to x-ray scans to examine the structure of hand bones, Germany’s previous government invested €1 million into ultrasound research to determine the age of asylum applicants.
However, no single method to assess an applicant’s age is standard practice in Germany, nor is it mandated by law that every suspicious applicant must be assessed. The German Medical Association has positioned itself against the idea of introducing mandatory age tests for refugees and migrants, saying that they are ethically objectionable and scientifically imprecise.
In Belgium, however, each asylum seeker whose age cannot be proven through documentation is medically assessed using x-rays of the teeth, the hands and the collarbone. According to the Daily Mail, Finland, Norway, Greece and France also use similar methods.
In Italy and Sweden, x-rays checks are conducted as well, though they are voluntary and are rather used to serve as legal proof of an applicant actually being underage.
With Reuters, Daily Mail
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