Family Returns: Children Seeking Asylum

Sarah Mills

In the recent special section of Area on ‘Upscaling young people’s geographies’, Heaven Crawley examines the role of children in the UK asylum system.  She focuses specifically on the asylum interview, which she argues “not only indicates a basic lack of humanity and care in engaging with the experiences of separated asylum-seeking children, but also a particular conceptualisation of ‘childhood’ that undermines the ability of children to fully articulate their experiences and to secure access to the protection to which they are entitled.”  This research on the way in which children are positioned and framed within broader asylum practises is vital in understanding the varied and complex geographies of young people as well as creating a more complete picture of asylum and migration in the UK.  Crawley argues that “current understanding of the experiences of separated asylum-seeking children is dominated by adult explanations and rationalisations which fail to engage directly with children and young people themselves. Separated asylum-seeking children are acted upon but they do not act: they are assumed to have no agency.” (2010: 163).

Asylum in Britain is a controversial and complex issue.  In a recent segment on Radio Four’s Today Programme, Mike Lanchin reports on a new, alternative scheme to detention centres (see Crawley and Lester, 2005) where children of failed asylum applications were previously sent.  His report charts recent government moves towards schemes of accommodation instead of detention, focusing specifically on Glasgow and the ‘Family Returns’ project.  He interviews Robina, a failed asylum seeker with 3 children, awaiting removal from UK for the last four months, but currently living in a flat with her children.  Previously, the children would have been locked up in detention centre, and so whilst clearly an improvement, this situation and the constant moving around has taken its toll on the children; Robina’s five year old son has difficulties sleeping.  Damien Green, immigration minister, is also interviewed and states the success of the new government’s change in policy over the detention of children.  Lanchin concludes, however, that there are no easy solutions to asylum and we should not forget that vulnerable children are caught up in these debates.  There is also a need, however, to remember the agency of children and the pervasive adult framings and articulations of asylum that Crawley highlights in her recent article.

Read H. Crawley (2010) ‘No one gives you a chance to say what you are thinking’: finding space for children’s agency in the UK asylum system’, Area 42 (2): 162-169

Listen to Mike Lanchin‘s report ‘Glasgow’s alternative to child detention’ on the Today Programme, Radio Four, 6 August 2010.

Reference: H. Crawley and T. Lester (2005) No Place for a Child: Children in Immigration Detention in the UK – Impacts, Alternatives and Safeguards, London: Save the Children UK

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