Today we talk to Andrew Miller*, a social worker from East Anglia.
East & West: The news today is that 24 refugees in Liverpool were found by the Liverpool council to be significantly older than their stated age. What is your experience, is this a common problem?
Andrew Miller: This is a very common problem from my experience. This is primarily because asylum applicants are aware that if they are under 18 they have an exponentially greater chance of remaining in the country, It is established home office practice not to return minors either to their county of origin or to a third party state.
Additionally if an asylum seeker can integrate well into British society, secure himself a spot at a university, become involved in a relationship, then when his case is reviewed at the age of 18 it becomes highly unlikely that he will be refused a right to remain, these factors therefore highlight the advantages of claiming to be a minor.
Of those clients I have worked with who claim to be under 18 I would surmise that a handful have been clearly well over 23, a handful have been clearly under 18 with the vast majority appearing to be between 17 and 23. A recent study in Sweden concluded that 84% of asylum applicants who claimed to be under 18 were in fact older. It is feasible that such results could be concluded all over Europe.
E&W: The story we have seen in the papers did not really say where these refugees are from. Is this a behaviour that can be attributed to people with a specific background?
AM: The refugees I have worked with have generally come from war torn countries, such as Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, or Eritrea but I have also dealt with claimants from Albania, Sudan and West Africa and from my experience this strategy of claiming to be a minor is not attributable to any particular area. The refugees are often shuttled across one country to another by experienced networks of human traffickers. Generally they are transported in groups to maximise profit for the handlers. The refugees therefore are not only well versed by those they pay, but also take on board the advice of their fellow travellers.
E&W: What happens when a social worker has doubts on a person age? What do people generally do if a man who is saying he is 15 looks much older than a schoolboy?
AM: There have been tests conducted in the past, particularly by examining a persons teeth or taking an MRI of knee joints however these are both costly and controversial. Certain sections of society have deemed such practice to be dehumanising, therefore social workers who are supposed to be looking after the welfare of these young people are not particularly keen for such assesments to be carried out. Neither is this necessarily the remit of the social worker. Additionally how conclusive can such examinations really be? Many people doubt that someone’s age can be truely verified by such methods.
Indeed the age debate has taken an entirely ideological spin, with some claiming that refugees are bound to look older due to the stress involved in fleeing war and making the long journey to the UK, but their argument is confused, because often we are dealing here with thick set boned people, those whose bones have developed. We are not talking about those who have aged due to wear and tear, stress and malnutrition, all these factors would delay certain muscular or skeletal development s, nonetheless questions pertaining to the reliability of such testing abound.
E&W: Is lying about your own age a crime? What happens to those people who have been caught in trying to exploit the system?
AM: If someone is found to be over age, their claim will be referred once more to the home office where they will be dealt with as an adult. Lying about ones age will have no criminal sanction, however it may impinge on their claim as any evidence they provide will be deemed untrustworthy and subjected to far greater scrutiny.
Lying about age, however, is problematic from a social worker’s point of view, because a 30 year old man should not be placed in a school with children. There are often many misconceptions in society and there is no doubt that parents will feel extremely uneasy about their 13 year old daughter possibly standing in the play ground chatting to a fully grown man. Such fears are prefominantly feed by tabloid stories of middle Eastern men marrying minors or the furore surrounding the Tommy Robinson depiction of Muslim paedophile rings. Notwithstanding such representations we must be aware that one such incident will be damaging not only to asylum seekers as a whole, but to the whole social work profession, after all for many social workers their primary task concerns looking after minors.
E&W: How many people have come to Britain as refugees over the last 5 years and where were they from?
AM: It’s hard to say exactly how many are here, for sure not all are registered, while others have simply disappeared from the system altogether, I do however consider it fair to say that 130,000 asylum claims have been recorded at the home office in the last five years. This makes up some 6% of all immigration to the UK in that period. A relatively small figure that im sure contrast s greatly with widely held public expectations.
E&W: How many asylum claims are granted?
AM: The overall refusal rate, especially among adults is high, again this underscores motivation for claiming to be a minor. In the last five years the refusal rate has been approximately 50%.
E&W: How many asylum claims in your view are genuine?
AM: If we look from a purely technical stance, there are in the UK practically no genuine asylum seekers. This has largely to do with the fact that the moment a refugee enters a safe country, it is there that he should make his asylum claim, but the people I have dealt with without exception have crossed many safe countries including generally Italy, France or Turkey on their way to the UK. In these countries they were safe from persecution, so at a certain point they are no longer fleeing for their lives and as such they have chosen specifically to come to the UK. However this certainly does not imply it is safe to send them back to their countries of origin or that they did not suffer some threat or persecution. Their journey however suggests they wanted more than just safety.
Here I also do not absolve the UK of any responsibility with regards to refugees, after all the UK has played a significant factor in generating refugees by embroiling itself in conflicts such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya we therefore are duty bound to do our part for those whose lives we helped destroy.
E&W: Should the media discuss these things more? Or disclosing this sort of imperfections of the social system should be done carefully, to avoid increasing social tension?
AM: The media should refrain from politicising refugees and concentrate on presenting a more realistic picture. The right place a magnifying glass over every negative incident, while the left whitewash certain issues and indulge in fantasies, such as the viability of open borders, with which to attack the right, in sum both generate an illusory vision of the world and both in equal measure contribute to social tensions. The partisan press both deny refugees their individuality, they focus on them simply as one group presenting them either as wholly negative or wholly positive.
E&W: So what is a more realistic vision of the issue?
So for sure not every asylum seeker is a terrorist. The ones I have worked with have always been polite and very affable in general. However we cannot expect that people born and raised in the Hindu Kush or the Pamir mountains will all share the same liberal vision of minority rights that many in the West do.
Furthermore it is not possible for seven billion people to live within the Transatlantic space, what the left should do is return to their rootes and call for a global distribution of wealth, what the right should do is realise they must help the left achieve this, because mass immigration has no other cure. The world needs balance, open borders long term will not only destroy us, but also many cultures and civilizations that currently inhabit our Earth. History has shown that morality is stable only where people are comfortable. People need to assess the risks buried within human nature rationally and without ideological prejudice.
*name has been changed