04 October 2021
A young refugee, who arrived in Belfast as an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child, has written an open letter to the Lord Mayor of Belfast. The young person was assisted in their claim for asylum by specialist immigration practitioners at the Children’s Law Centre. The letter details the young person’s love for the city and how they have settled since arriving. It was be read at Belfast City Council’s October full council meeting.
Titled ‘My Perspective on Belfast’ the letter outlines how the now young adult feels “safe” in the city among the “friendly and sociable” people. It demonstrates the incredible resilience and positivity of a young person who arrived alone and scared, and how they’ve adapted to life as a new citizen of Belfast.
The open letter comes as controversial immigration and asylum changes are progressing through Westminster. The Nationality and Borders Bill, which has been widely criticised by immigration practitioners, will have devastating consequences for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Solicitors at the Children’s Law Centre have raised significant concerns that it will put them at increased risk of trafficking and will prevent them from accessing the quick, specialist services they need during a traumatic time.
Speaking ahead of the council meeting, Immigration Solicitor Maria McCloskey said: “The Children’s Law Centre represents the vast majority of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in this jurisdiction. We witness the impact of the trauma these children have endured and the vulnerable position they are in, with 40% of our clients recognised as potential victims of trafficking. To see how settled one of those young people has now become, and how positive they are about their new home in Belfast, is heart-warming. I’m so pleased to have been able to help them.
“However, we can’t hide from the fact that if the Nationality and Borders Bill was in place, 96% of the asylum claims made by the separated or unaccompanied asylum-seeking children we represent, would have been considered inadmissible. This means they would not have been entitled to the full protection of the Refugee convention of 1951. The government would, first, have tried to remove them to another country. Had they been unable to remove them, they would have granted them short term permission to remain, without access to any benefits or help with housing, leaving them potentially homeless and destitute in the future. The reality is that these are vulnerable children and changes to the asylum process on this scale are going to put them in harm’s way. It also undermines positive devolved efforts to tackle trafficking in recent years.
“Not to mention the dangerous rhetoric around refugees coming from the Home Office, the Bill also criminalises people who are legally seeking asylum. Refugees are not criminals just because they seek asylum. We are talking about people like you and I who have lost their home through war, fear or persecution and have nowhere to turn. Children, alone, trying to reunite with far off family members, or in the grips of modern slavery.
“This letter shows the reality of who we, as legal practitioners, support in our work. It is an example of the difference we can make by ensuring safe arrival, quick action and the opportunity to live a life without fear. An example of what will be lost if the worst reaches of the Nationality and Borders Bill are not curtailed.”