13:46, February 28 123 0 theguardian.com

2018-02-28 13:46:04
Child refugees: the world's uprooted youth  Teenage refugee's high court challenge could give hope to thousands

A 16-year-old Afghan boy is challenging the government’s refusal to allow him to seek sanctuary in the UK in a case that could give hope to thousands of other child asylum seekers across Europe.

The boy, known as ZS, was resident in the Calais camp when the French authorities cleared it in October 2016 and applied unsuccessfully to be brought to the UK under section 67 of the immigration act, known as the Dubs amendment. It is the first time an individual lone child asylum seeker has issued a challenge of this kind against the home secretary.

The boy is suffering from severe mental health problems, according to psychiatric assessments. He has been diagnosed with PTSD and has attempted suicide three times. The 16-year-old has been trying to reach the UK since he fled Afghanistan three years ago at the age of 13. His father assisted western interests and as a result he was abducted and his son was shot.

The boy is arguing that guidance about children in Calais issued by the home secretary applied unlawful criteria and that unfair procedures were adopted when the Home Office was deciding which children could and could not come to the UK. If the case succeeds it could have implications for thousands of other vulnerable child asylum seekers in Europe who are hoping to reach the UK using Dubs amendment legislation.

The Home Office is arguing that they acted lawfully and that difficult decisions had to be made about which children to accept for transfer to the UK. Nine teams, each consisting of 10 to 12 Home Office staff, interviewed 1,872 children in 73 different parts of France after the Calais camp was closed.

Representing the boy, Sonali Naik QC said: “What we are concerned with is the lawfulness of the secretary of state’s implementation of Section 67 [of the immigration act].”

Krisha Prathepan, of Duncan Lewis, the boy’s solicitor, said: “ZS remains deeply anxious and unsettled over a year since this case was issued. He is clear that his only hope is to come to the UK so that he can begin to rebuild his shattered life. By ignoring her statutory obligations under the ‘Dubs amendment’, the home secretary has not only failed ZS, but thousands of other unaccompanied refugee children who remain on mainland Europe, many living without shelter in these freezing conditions and at risk of exploitation. We hope this challenge will force the UK government to carry out its moral and legal duties towards these children.”

Last month Home Office officials agreed to extend an eligibility deadline so that children fleeing conflict and arriving in Europe before 18 January 2018 could be considered under the Dubs amendment. The initial scheme was launched in 2016. Under its terms the government agreed to offer a safe and legal route to refugee children travelling alone.

Previously, refugee children had to have arrived in Europe before March 2016 to be considered. This deadline meant large numbers of vulnerable young people who had arrived in France, Greece and Italy more recently were not eligible.

A Home Office spokesman declined to comment on whether any vulnerable child asylum seekers had been brought to the UK from France, Italy or Greece since guidance was updated last month.

“We cannot provide a running commentary on how many new children have arrived since January,” the spokesman said.

The charity Help Refugees has been granted permission by the court of appeal to challenge the government’s decision to cap the number of spaces available under the scheme at 480, arguing that this number is far too low and does not represent the UK’s share of the estimated 90,000 unaccompanied child refugees in Europe.

The hearing is scheduled to last for two days and judgment is likely to be reserved.