Nowhere to Hide: Dangers and Dilemmas Surrounding Lone Children and Young People Seeking Asylum in the UK

As part of a series of events debating the intersections between film and campaigns for social justice, Birkbeck’s Institute for the Moving Image (BIMI) held a screening of Sue Clayton’s film Hamedullah: The Road Home and two panel discussion sessions. These sessions considered the challenges facing young people who arrive in the UK as unaccompanied asylum seekers and the implications of immigration laws and procedures for these young people’s wellbeing.


In the first session, Kathryn Cronin (Garden Court Chambers) and Sarah-Jane Savage (UNHCR UK) outlined key aspects of the immigration system within which unaccompanied young people are processed. As a starting point Kathryn stressed the need to acknowledge that on arriving in the UK these young people have frequently had very long and often horrific journeys overland, during which time they may have been subject to abuse. They are then dealt with in a system which is ill-adapted to their circumstances. There is little attempt to elicit  the proper story of their situation. While they will be granted leave to remain as children, when they are coming up to 18, they have to submit asylum claims which are rarely approved. Cuts in legal aid will make it even harder for young people to have the support required in submitting appeals.


While there are obligations regarding care and mentoring under the Children’s Act, these obligations are rarely met. Schemes based on guardianship which run in Scotland have been shown to have very positive results in terms of providing appropriate support and advice to young people. This was highlighted by Sarah-Jane Savage in her account of the outcomes of joint research between UNHCR and the Home Office –the Quality Initiative and Integration Project. This sought to improve the quality of first-instance decision-making and longer-term protection activities. The December 2013 report Considering the Best Interests of the Child within a Family Seeking Asylum stressed the importance of putting the child at the centre of any immigration activities – as Sarah-Jane concluded, “They are children first and migrants second.”


Following-on from discussions of the inner workings of the immigration system, Lisa Matthews (Campaigns Coordinator (South) for the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns – now known as Right to Remain) discussed the range of activities anti-deportation groups throughout the country have been involved in. This focus on what ‘ordinary people’ in the UK can do in the face of migration injustice, was particularly welcomed by many in the audience. Lisa also mentioned the role of asylum-seekers themselves in campaigning and highlighting their experiences within the system. This includes a small group of returnees in Kabul.


Tory J, a young Afghan man who is currently waiting to hear whether he is allowed to remain in the UK, talked about his experiences of being detained and how the threat of deportation frames his everyday life and his plans for the future, including going to university. Hearing Tory speak after just seeing the film Hamedullah which included footage of a young man (Hamedullah) who had been deported to Afghanistan on a so-called ‘ghost flight’, was particularly powerful. Tory blogs about his experiences at


The final speaker, Gillian Hughes (Clinical psychologist and leader of the Refugee Team at the Tavistock and Portman NHS TrustBirkbeck January panel image) picked up on the psychological implications for young people who are in situations like Tory. The majority of young people referred to the Tavistock refugee team for support are 17; the age when the threat of deportation looms large, as protection due to status as a child (aged under 18) will be removed. Gillian highlighted the contradictions between seeking to support vulnerable young people, while also having to replay the elements of vulnerability when advocating for those same young people in court. Linking to the role of film and creativity, she concluded by outlining work she had done with Sue Clayton with a group of young men who made a film during a day out in Richmond Park.  This film not only had a positive impact on the young men themselves, but it has been also been used for training purposes.