Child Asylum Seekers in the UK Forced to Share Hotel Rooms with Adults Amid Government’s Cost-Cutting Measures

Child Asylum Seekers in the UK Forced to Share Hotel Rooms with Adults Amid Government's Cost-Cutting Measures
Young refugees who arrived in the UK amid renewed political controversy over age assessments for adolescent migrants. Photograph: Joel Goodman/the Guardian

Child asylum seekers arriving in the UK are being forced to share hotel rooms with adults as part of the Home Office’s new “maximisation” programme, according to a report from The Guardian. The programme aims to double the capacity of refugee hotels by assigning two people to rooms that were previously single-occupancy.

The Refugee Council has raised concerns about the frequent misclassification of child refugees as adults at the UK border, exposing them to significant safeguarding risks. This problem is compounded by the government’s new policy of room-sharing in hotels as a cost-cutting measure.

In interviews with The Guardian, seven young asylum seekers in Yorkshire reported that they were incorrectly classified as adults by border officials despite being 16 or 17 years old. Staff from the Refugee Council, who later interviewed the asylum seekers and checked their identity documents, believe that mistakes were made in these cases.

One asylum seeker, Faisal, who fled from Eritrea and arrived in the UK in August, shared that he told border officials he was 16, but was given a document listing his age as 26. Faisal stated that he was overwhelmed and exhausted when he arrived and struggled to understand the French Arabic interpreter provided to him, as he speaks Tigrinya. Now, he finds himself sharing a hotel room with a 30-year-old man and feels “lost.”

A group of teenagers from Afghanistan also reported similar experiences, with one boy, Mohammed, saying that his identity papers were correctly listed, but the year of his birth was recorded as 2001 instead of 2007, making him appear 22 years old instead of 16. Mohammed is now sharing a hotel room with a 40-year-old man.

The issue of adults pretending to be children has occupied considerable bandwidth in the political and media debate over illegal immigration. Photograph: Joel Goodman/the Guardian

These revelations come amid political controversy surrounding age assessments for adolescent migrants. Both current Home Secretary Suella Braverman and her predecessor, Priti Patel, have expressed a commitment to addressing the issue of adults posing as children to enter the UK. The Illegal Migration Act of 2023 introduces measures such as “scientific assessments,” including X-rays, to determine age. However, these proposals have faced backlash from organizations such as the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which has deemed the use of X-rays unethical and potentially inaccurate.

The Home Office has acknowledged the complexities surrounding age assessment, stating that officials will treat a claimant as an adult “if their physical appearance and demeanor very strongly suggests that they are significantly over 18 years of age.”

Refugee charities and lawyers have criticized the methods used for age assessment, with one judge overturning a Home Office decision that had incorrectly classified an Afghan asylum seeker as 25 instead of 16. In the case of the seven young people interviewed in Yorkshire, only one reported undergoing what he believed was a physical examination as part of the age assessment process.

Caroline Norman, a project manager with the Refugee Council, expressed concern over the increasing number of children being housed in adult hotels, describing the situation as “shockingly uncared for.” Kama Petruczenko, a senior policy analyst with the charity, stated that the political narrative focuses on adults pretending to be children, but in reality, “there are significant numbers of children in the adult system.”

The Home Office declined to comment on the specific cases mentioned but reiterated the importance of removing incentives for adults to pose as children in order to remain in the UK. Data from the Home Office indicates that between January 2016 and June 2021, 58% of asylum applicants whose age was disputed were ultimately found to be adults.

However, the Refugee Council reported that in 2021, its age assessment project worked with 233 young people who were initially deemed adults by the Home Office, with only 14 of them subsequently found to be adults, resulting in a 94% overturn rate of the initial assessments.