Scheme for young asylum seekers 'could be model for UK'

Holding hands The service helps unaccompanied children applying for asylum in the UK

A programme working with young asylum seekers in Scotland could provide a model for other schemes around Europe, according to an independent evaluation.

The Scottish Guardianship Service (SGS) has supported more than 100 unaccompanied young people - some victims of trafficking.

Each child is allocated a guardian to offer support and guidance during the immigration and welfare processes.

The Scottish government is funding the pilot project for three years.

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Around 2,000 unaccompanied children apply for asylum in the UK each year.

The Scottish pilot project, launched in 2010, has so far helped young people separated from their parents from 17 different countries, most of whom (85%) were aged 15-17.

They include children from Afghanistan, Vietnam, Nigeria and Iran.

The service, which is operated by Aberlour Childcare Trust and the Scottish Refugee Council, has been praised by researchers from Swansea and Bedfordshire Universities in an independent evaluation.

Their report She endures with me, said: "Much of the learning from the pilot could be usefully shared with policy makers and practitioners in other parts of the UK and Europe."

Independent advocates

SGS, which is the only service of its kind in the UK, provides each young person with a "guardian" to help them navigate the asylum system and rebuild their lives in Scotland.

CASE STUDY - PATIENCE

Patience was refused asylum. She claimed to be of an ethnic group that practised female genital mutilation and had only ever lived in remote rural areas in her country of origin.

The UK Border Agency said she was from an ethnic group that lives in urban areas.

A guardian then got involved and took time to get to know Patience.

It was clear she was unaccustomed to urban life of any kind - unfamiliar and fearful of things like escalators, trains and traffic lights.

When she appealed the refusal of her asylum claim, the guardian provided evidence to show she came from a remote village rather than a city. The guardian also provided a letter of support.

Patience was granted refugee status.

Source: Aberlour and Scottish Refugee Council

Guardians act as independent advocates for the child, assisting them with everything from dealing with lawyers to helping them build social networks.

It is funded by the Big Lottery Fund, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Scottish Government, which recently announced it was to continue funding the service for a further three years.

The praise for the project comes as the Joint Committee on Human Rights carries out an inquiry into the rights of unaccompanied young people in the UK.

Scottish Minister for Young People and Children Aileen Campbell said: "All children need to feel safe, but unaccompanied asylum seeking children in particular need to feel safe, cared for and listened to."

"The evidence from the initial pilot has shown that the service works and the continued funding will enable it to carry on helping improve the lives of unaccompanied asylum seeking children and young people."

'Confused and frightened'

John Wilkes, chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, said: "Despite improvements, the asylum system is still not a child-friendly one.

"It can be extremely difficult for traumatised young people, who find themselves alone and feeling their way in a strange culture, to navigate its complexities and deal with a host of professionals including lawyers, Home Office officials and social workers."

"Having a guardian by their side and on their side makes a huge difference to the experience of that young person in Scotland."

He said it also meant children had a better understanding of the asylum system which greatly increased their chances of getting a fair hearing.

Jackie Hothersall, director of children and family services at Aberlour, said: "The children and young people referred to us will have travelled long distances to get to the UK.

"They arrive without any family or friends; they are often confused and frightened and typically will not speak English.

"Frequently they arrive in a state of trauma and shock because of the experiences they have fled."

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