Claim two-thirds of child asylum seekers are actually adults is false

13 July 2022
What was claimed

Two thirds of asylum-seekers who arrived here since 2018 claiming to be unaccompanied children were found to be adults.

Our verdict

This is not true, and is based on a misinterpretation of Home Office statistics. According to official figures, around 20% of people who said they were unaccompanied children while claiming asylum in the UK were later found to be adults between January 2018 and March 2022.

Two thirds of asylum-seekers who arrived here since 2018 claiming to be unaccompanied children were found to be adults, with obvious safeguarding risks to real refugee kids.

An editorial published by The Sun claimed that two-thirds of asylum seekers arriving into the UK claiming to be children since 2018 were found to be adults. 

This isn’t true and after being contacted by Full Fact, The Sun amended the article and included a correction explaining the inaccuracy. 

According to the Home Office statistics, between January 2018 and March 2022 (the most recent figures available), 14,208 people who identified or were identified as unaccompanied children claimed asylum in the UK. 

During that period, 4,814 such age dispute cases were resolved. This is where Home Office staff doubt the age of the person claiming to be a child and the claimant doesn’t have reliable documentary evidence to prove their claim. 

In total, 2,722 people claiming to be unaccompanied children were actually deemed to be adults—equivalent to 19% of all 14,208 unaccompanied children. (In practice, not all of the age disputes raised or resolved in this period would have been relating to asylum claims made during this period, so the rate is indicative, not precise) 

However, The Sun’s figure of around 56% appears to be based on dividing the number of age dispute cases where the person is found to be over 18 by the number of age dispute cases in total, not the total number of unaccompanied children as claimed.

The Sun doesn’t explicitly state its source for this claim, but on 9 July the Express published an article headlined: “Two thirds of asylum seekers who claimed to be children were found to be over 18.” 

This headline is similarly misleading in isolation, but the text of the article does state that this is based on the figures for age dispute cases between January 2021 and March 2022, as opposed to all people identifying as unaccompanied children when claiming asylum.

The Sun has now also changed its article to reflect the figures reported in the Express instead.

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How reliable are the Home Office statistics?

It should also be noted that while these are the best available figures, determining the age of asylum seekers who do not have any documentation is extremely difficult to do precisely and so there is some doubt as to the quality of the Home Office statistics. 

For example, as we have written before, in 2017 the independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration said in a report that he had found inconsistency in whether or not applicants who looked “significantly” over 18 (and were subject to an immediate decision on their age and not a formal age dispute) were recorded in the statistics.  

The Home Office has announced changes to the way in which it intends to determine the age of applicants, including new “scientific methods”, though these have been heavily criticised as imprecise. 

Image courtesy of Partonez

Correction 14 July 2022

This article has been updated to highlight the misleading headline used by the Express and to explain more fully the potential issues with statistics on age dispute cases.

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