In the course of our work we assist families with children in claiming asylum in the United Kingdom. As a signatory to the International Conventions the UK is bound by Article 3 which stipulates that the best interests of children must be a primary concern in making decisions that may affect them. A legislative measure introduced to implement the UK’s obligations under this Article is that section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship & Immigration Act 2009 which places a duty on the Secretary of State and officers acting on her behalf to have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the discharge of various functions relating to immigration customs, nationality and asylum. The UNHCR audit examined how existing UK procedures facilitate the ability of Home Office staff to make asylum and immigration decisions with these duties in mind. The key findings of this audit were that individual Home Office officers actively identified the issues relevant to the welfare and best interests of children in asylum seeking families, and those families move through the asylum procedure as a result of this identification, undertaking actions with these interests in mind. However, there were instances where despite the proactivity of the Home Office staff in making referrals, the response from the local authority was lacking.
In representing the best interests of children we, at Danielle Cohen Solicitors collect information from all sources and our work consists of ongoing assessments of the child’s best interests. It is vital for us to assess what is the interest and what are the difficulties and long term prospects for the child. The process of information collection, a process which begins the moment we are instructed by the child or by the family, is child centred and gender sensitive and to the best of our ability, depending on the child’s age, we try to guarantee the child’s participation in the process. The information we gather must be factual and credible and confidentiality is important. We try to obtain, if age appropriate, oral evidence both from the parents, and from the children if appropriate. We obtain evidence from social services, from psychologists, from the medical profession, from country experts, from schools and in our representations we emphasise the need to protect the safety of the child, identify the child’s development rights and identify situations of vulnerability. At present we are representing two minor Albanian children together with their mother in an appeal against a refusal of an application made by her previous representatives. One of the young children has been the subject of care proceedings and the other has serious learning difficulties. Part of our argument is that the children and the mother cannot return to Albania as it will not be in the best interest of the children.