Asylum support: six key asks
Amanda Shah, policy officer, Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit
Monday, July 29, 2019
A group of young people in care and affected by asylum have devised advice on how best to support them.
Over the past year, an increasingly diverse range of local authorities have found themselves supporting young people in care and care leavers affected by immigration control.
Some councils are supporting the 2,872 young people on their own in the UK seeking asylum.
Most young asylum seekers live with foster carers or in supported lodgings with the local authority as their corporate parent. The same is true for young people trafficked to the UK. Others in care are affected by immigration control because the immigration status of their family is unclear or unknown. Some will have been born in the UK or have spent most of their childhood here, but their immigration status has never been resolved.
Brexit immigration changes also mean the estimated 5,000 EU national children in care need their councils to take action if they are not to become undocumented.
In Greater Manchester, young people in care affected by immigration control meet as the All4One youth group at Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU) (see box). This year, young people from the group worked to develop #SixThings - their "how to" guide for social workers, personal advisers and other local authority staff.
Based on their own experiences of care, they say: "We are experienced and brave. We have big dreams for our futures. We want to make positive change so that young people in our situation have the best care possible."
Here are their top tips for what best practice in care looks like to them, and their suggestions for what you can do to make it happen.
1. Remember, we are young
Young people might seem "older" because of different cultural expectations or previous life experiences; but a 15-year-old is still 15 no matter where they are from or what they have been through.
"We understand it might be hard to imagine where we're from, but we're just young people and we're on our own. We still need a real chance at teenage life in the UK, and we need your help."
How can you help them - especially if they are new to the area, the country or have limited English - to access the things they need to be teenagers? Where are the youth groups, colleges, cricket teams? Where can they meet others who speak the same language?
2. Make time to support us
You don't need to be an expert in the asylum process or the immigration system, but you do need to be an expert in connecting young people to legal advice and embedding their immigration needs within your care plans.
"We know you have lots of people to support, but we don't know anyone here. Our lives are complex, we face different problems to our British friends in care. We all need different pathway plans as we are at different points in the process."
3. Listen to our questions
Coming from different places means young people affected by immigration control can have more, or different, questions to ask than British children in care. A trusted social worker can be their navigator for how life works in their new community.
"We ask questions because we don't understand. We don't want to feel like a burden."
4. Keep your promises
The future can look very different for young people depending on the outcome of their immigration application. This uncertainty is hard to live with and complex for social workers to plan around. Asking young people how they want to manage it with you, having those difficult conversations, acknowledging the difficulties and working on different pathway plans helps make sure appropriate support is in place no matter what their immigration decision is.
"Whether it's big or small, if you don't know, don't promise. Take the time to have difficult conversations with us."
5. Treat us equally
If everything around you is new and confusing, differences in how you and your friends are treated can be hugely important and assume great significance. Why have I not been allowed a bus pass when my friend has? How does my friend get to see their social worker more than me?
"We want to be treated the same as each other. It sometimes feels like others are a priority because they are louder about their problems or that we only get noticed if we behave badly."
6. Be present when with us
A good relationship with a social worker can be life changing for young people dealing with the pressures of immigration control, and that relationship starts with the act of being present together.
"We need you to hear us, help us and believe us. We like it when you put down your notepad and just be with us. If you ask how I am, I can say ‘good', but if you are looking at me, you will know the truth. The best social worker I had said ‘let's go for a five minute walk and talk'."
- The All4One youth group in Greater Manchester meets monthly and has been running for 11 years.
- It is attended by up to 45 young people who are mostly on their own in the UK seeking asylum.
- The majority are originally from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Vietnam.
- To find out more about All4One and the work behind #SixThings, contact GMIAU on 0161 740 7722 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Asylum statistics annual trends, Refugee Council, May 2019
- Immigration EU Nationals written answer, Home Office, February 2019