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100 asylum seeking children are living alone in Wales.

NEARLY 100 asylum-seeking children are living in Wales without their parents, after making long and terrifying journeys to escape danger in their home countries.

According to the latest figures from the Wales Strategic Migration Partnership, there are currently 97 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children under the care of local authorities across Wales.

The majority of these children have been discovered in areas along the M4 corridor such as Cardiff and Newport, or in ports such as Holyhead and Milford Haven. They include 19 Afghan children in Monmouth, 48 in Cardiff, 19 in Newport, six in Swansea and one in Wrexham. Others have been dispersed throughout Wales.

But case workers believe the real figure may be much higher, as older children who are not carrying any identification are often classed as adults after undergoing vigorous age assessments.

Such assessments have been widely criticised by health professionals and asylum case workers, who claim they are prone to error.

Finding themselves living in a foreign land without the protection of their families, these children become extremely vulnerable to crime, drugs, trafficking and prostitution.

Daisy Cole, senior children's policy officer at the Welsh Refugee Council said: "These young people have lived lives that we can not even begin to imagine and their already fragile sense of self is being further destroyed and traumatised by the experience of being expected to prove that they are a child.

"Children do not arrive with birth certificates or passports but are expected to prove they are children through interviews and intrusive medical examinations that can never give fully conclusive answers.

"The 'best interests of the child' is the basis of child policy in Wales. Asylum seeking children, however, are faced with a culture of mistrust and disbelief that leaves them in a very frightening and potentially life threatening situation." She added that children whose ages are under dispute should be given the benefit of the doubt.

"Home Office guidance to social workers on age assessment clearly states that children should be given the benefit of the doubt. Yet this is not being practised," she said.

"We believe children should be given the benefit of the doubt and ... other professional views such as GPs, nurses, teachers and case workers should be considered on an equal footing to that of the social worker."
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 6, 2009
Words:381
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