Author- Basit Mahmood
Read more: https://metro.co.uk/2019/06/22/child-refugee-not-go-school-no-one-believed-18-10030576/?ito=cbshare
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A refugee who fled to the UK after his mother was killed by the Taliban, says he feels ‘let down’ and ‘angry’ after authorities refused to believe he was a child. Giving his name only as Ahmed, he said he had to flee Afghanistan at the age of 13, after a Taliban bomb killed his mother and he didn’t know the whereabouts of his father. After travelling across Europe for almost two years, and spending two weeks at a camp in Calais, he made it to the UK, where he claims nobody ‘believed he was 15’. That set in motion a course of events that meant Ahmed was ‘not sent to school or be placed in foster care’, which should have been the case. He told metro.co.uk: ‘I had no money and no one spoke my language, it was very difficult.’ Ahmed says he eventually managed to hide in the back of a lorry headed for England.
He says he stayed in the lorry ‘for many hours, until it stopped at a garage’, before being spotted and arrested by the police. He faced a number of questions at the police station about his circumstances, but was unable to answer them because he did not speak ‘any English at the time’. After being moved to a children’s care home in Barnsley, he started the process of trying to apply for asylum. Recalling his first meeting with social services, he said ‘no interpreter was provided’ and he had ‘no idea what they were asking’, making him feel ‘very overwhelmed and scared that he would be sent home.
Despite eventually being given an interpreter, Ahmed says ‘no one would believe he was under 18’.
He said: ‘The home office wanted to see my original ID from Afghanistan, but I did not have it. ‘The only family I could contact was an uncle, he sent over something, but apparently because it was not the original it was not good enough, so they did not believe my age.’ Eventually he was given an age assessment, but Ahmed claims there was no one there to help him. He says that having an ‘independent legal guardian’, where each child refugee who arrives in the UK unaccompanied is given an advocate who would be able to instruct solicitors on their behalf and represent their interests, would have made a difference to his case and ensured he didn’t fall through the ‘gaps in statutory support’.
Ahmed says that after social services refused to believe he was 15, he was told it was down to him ‘to try and prove his age’ and that he would need to get a solicitor, ‘but no one said where to get one, or how’.
The age dispute meant that Ahmed was not able to go to school like he should have done or placed in foster care.
Instead he was sent to college and placed in a care home.
He said: ‘Because my first social worker did not believe me, I do not trust the local authority, I have not told them lots of details about what happened to me.
‘I feel like they do not want to help. The Home Office has been OK, but social services are so judgemental.’
He added: ‘If someone had been there to explain what was happening, give me advice and help me make the best decisions I think it would have been better. ‘It also would have been good to have someone believe me, someone who treated me well and did not judge me.’ Ilona Pinter, Policy and Research Manager at The Children’s Society said: ‘Unaccompanied and separated children are some of the most vulnerable in the country. ‘They have no-one here to look out for them as a parent would. ‘They need an independent legal guardian who can act in their best interests, help them navigate complex immigration and, in some cases, criminal justice systems and access the best support.