Sunday, January 07, 2007

Proposals to x-ray young asylum seekers

This piece in Friday’s Guardian utterly horrified me. The Home Office seeks to introduce procedures which will allow young asylum seekers under the age of 18 years to undergo x-rays of their teeth and wrist bones to determine their age.

The reason being is that an asylum seeker under the age of 18 years receives high levels of support and protection than adults and that ministers are concerned that “some asylum seekers try to pass themselves off as younger than they are to qualify”.

Fortunately, these proposals are being challenged by various organisations. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have questioned the ethics of “irradiating people for purposes not to their advantage”

The Royal College of Radiologists advised its members that it is: ‘inappropriate’ to undertake an x-ray for the purposes of age estimation. Other arguments used against x-rays is that it is not an exact science, reliability is limited and margin of error substantial – accuracy only to within plus/minus 2 years in assessing age.

At the moment, when an unaccompanied asylum seeking child (UASC) comes to the UK:

“The social services department in the area where the young person presents as an asylum seeker will need to decide on the age of the individual to establish if it has a duty to assist or look after them under Part III of the Children Act 1989.”

The current system is abusive as there was a successful challenge to a Home Office decision regarding 2 young asylum seekers who were considered to be 18 or over. They had been detained as adults in Oakington detention centre.

“The children were only released when social workers informed the Home Office that, in their view, the physical appearance of the two strongly suggested they were under the age of 18.”

It is interesting that the draft document from the Home Office says dental and wrist x-rays have been successfully used in other European countries.

Really? Well, countries such as Bulgaria, Denmark, Czech Republic, Greece, Ireland (Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner is still considering whether to use x-rays as a form of age assessment), Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Slovakia, do not or very seldom apply an age assessment.

Germany and Austria discontinued with x-rays due to unreliability. Sweden uses x-rays, dental examination and psycho-social assessment (though not been implemented as yet). Norway is similar to Sweden.
(From Separated Children in Europe Programme -workshop on age assessment and identification, Bucharest, 20-22 March 2003. Report by Kate Halvorsen).

Even in the USA x-rays and dental examinations have been heavily condemned by medical and dental experts. The U.S. Department of State has instructed its staff not to rely on radiological testing.

In Belgium, Ilse Derluyn of the University of Ghent has produced a study which reveals the very high incidence of serious emotional problems among unaccompanied asylum-seeking children

“Some 47 per cent of them showed signs of depression, 45 per cent serious symptoms of anxiety and 58 per cent post-traumatic stress disorder. AI reports that the Italian government has breached national law and international standards by detaining unaccompanied minors and has called on the authorities to implement an independent monitoring system to listen to the opinions of detained children.”

This kind of intrusive and oppressive measure will only increase the distress of these children.

So why now with the UK?

Around 2,965 unaccompanied kids came into this country in 2005 while 2,425 were age disputed. Around 650 were eventually resolved. Why can’t they give these kids the benefit of the doubt as they are probably scared and feeling vulnerable but resorting to intrusive procedures can only worsen the situation as it is an abuse of trust? What about consent? And free legal representation? Incidentally, with the Carter proposals on legal aid immigration and asylum is one area that will be hit very hard.

"No one seems to be listening to what the children themselves have to say, or considering the impact that their experiences before and since coming to this country may have had on them."

Is this an example of late Blairite racist electoralism? Asylum seekers still provide an easy scapegoat for politicians who want someone other than the powerful in society to blame for the problems for ordinary people. The government are still playing this vile game and the most vulnerable people are to be punished for problems caused by others.

This is another repressive measure by New Labour to show that they are being “tough” on immigration. Bullying and scaring powerless kids. Yeah, really tough!