Children’s Commissioner
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The Big Ambition for Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum

As Children’s Commissioner, I have a duty to promote and protect the rights of all children. But I have a particular duty, and feel a profound responsibility, towards those who are not living with their own families. This includes the children who have arrived here unaccompanied, fleeing war and persecution in their home countries.  

The children I have met have faced unimaginable horrors, and then gone on to endure yet more as they are abused and exploited by traffickers or people smugglers who bring them here. We must of course have it as our ultimate goal for no child to have to make these perilous journeys, by prioritising enough safe and legal ways for them to arrive. But for every child who arrives outside of these routes, our first response must be one of love, care and compassion.  

In The Big Ambition, children were asked what they think the Government should do to make children’s lives better. In response to the survey, a small number of children identified themselves to be unaccompanied children, but too few to report on in the survey results due to the risk of identification. In the free text responses, some children indicated that they were living in temporary asylum accommodation, including hotels.  

To make sure the voices of as many unaccompanied children as possible were heard, my team also visited them wherever they were living to hear about what they wanted to change ahead of the next election. One young person aged 18 told us: “Over the last 3-4 months I have realised that what I want for the future is not what is out there. I want a normal life. I want to have employment, an income, to pay for my needs, to be able to purchase equipment.” 

I also heard from other children who told my office they wanted refugee children to feel welcome and accepted and feel a sense of belonging – representative of their strong moral compass and belief that the adults in power can bring about positive change. Responses to The Big Ambition highlighted children’s desires and wishes for unaccompanied children:  

“I told them I’m underage, but they didn’t believe me and put me with the adults. I didn’t feel safe there because people were drinking, smoking cigarettes and smoking hashish. They are older than myself.” – Boy, 17. 

“I think the government should house asylum children, because it is not suitable for children to live in asylum centres/hotels” – Boy 14 

“Look after everyone even if they are not from this country like refugees. They should be looked after and not sent away.” – Girl, 11. 

Unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the UK are highly vulnerable and in need of care and protection from the moment they arrive. Unaccompanied children have often experienced the most extreme forms of trauma and need a safe and stable home that can provide them with consistent love and care.  

That’s why I have set out five overarching outcomes I want for every child in The Big Ambition, namely that they are safe, healthy, happy, learning and engaged in their community.  

To achieve that for unaccompanied children will mean achieving the following ambitions:  

  • Every child seeking asylum has access to a stable and loving home.  
  • Every child seeking asylum is supported to thrive in education.  
  • Every unaccompanied child in need of care and protection is supported from the day they arrive. 

You can read all my recommendations for how we can achieve each of these ambitions in The Big Ambition report.


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