Education provision to age disputed migrants

2 Dec 2020 | Edward Taylor

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The thorny issue of education provision to age disputed migrants

There was an interesting article in The Guardian last week concerning age disputed migrants being denied an education, which prompted me to think about the society we live in, why such an approach is being taken, and whether it is morally acceptable.

The law in this area provides that where a person’s age is in doubt, they must be treated as a child unless, and until, a case-law compliant age assessment shows the person to be an adult. The rationale behind this is that the age assessment process can take some time (often months), and the loss of services, particularly education provision to often unschooled asylum-seekers, cannot be rectified retrospectively.

The law reflects that we live in a civilised system, preserving people’s rights pending lawful determination. However, some individuals and organisations will be genuinely concerned by the prospect of potential adults being enrolled at schools and colleges, even if only on a temporary basis. Does that mean that it’s right to deny age disputed migrants generally the right to an education pending the age assessment process?

What is clear is that, like in many areas of law, we cannot have an interim system that is fair to all. It’s a balancing exercise. The law, as it stands, should be complied with – it is the law, created by the governments that we vote in as a democratic society. I also believe that the law in this area is ethically correct, for a number of reasons, notwithstanding the genuine concern that some may have:-

  • It is a fundamental part of civilised society to preserve individual’s rights, as much as possible, pending lawful determination. For instance, our criminal system treats individuals as ‘innocent until proven guilty’, with bail granted in all but the most serious of cases.
  • Age disputed migrants are still young people, otherwise they would have been summarily assessed as being well over the age of 18. While age is an important question in western society, especially to determine rights, in reality can it reasonably be said that a young person aged say 19 or 20 poses a threat that a 17 year old would not pose. Would we have been a threat if we attended college when aged 19 or 20? Don’t we have ‘mature students’ in any event – why are they any different?
  • It is fair to say that asylum-seekers are usually far less educated, which means that every day of education is critical to their development, and trying to catch up and reach potential. If we do not provide education to age disputed migrants, then society loses out in the long run by those individuals unable to give back in the way that they would have been able to if properly educated.

We should not lose sight of the fact that many age disputed migrants have their claimed ages accepted by local authorities, sometimes without the need for a full age assessment, sometimes following a full assessment, and sometimes following Court proceedings when an unlawful assessment has been challenged. I am not aware of any available statistics, but as a solicitor acting for many age disputed migrants, over 90% of my completed cases resulted in an acceptance of age, at times following several months of dispute. In the circumstances, any genuine concern must surely be outweighed by the need to safeguard the rights of many vulnerable deserving individuals.

If you would like to speak to Edward Taylor or another member of the Housing and Social Care team at Osbornes Law, call 0207 584 8811 or complete an online enquiry form.

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