A new report has found that at least one in eight refugees who claimed to be children arriving in the UK were in fact adults.
Some 65% of asylum seekers who were assessed after claiming to be children were judged to be over 18, according to the report by immigration watchdog David Bolt.
The Home Office received 2,952 asylum applications from unaccompanied children in the year up to June 2017.
Officials believed applicant were lying about their age in 705 of those cases, with 402 (65%) found to be adults.
The report states:
Home Office data indicated that between 1 July 2016 and 30 June 2017 it had received 2,952
applications for asylum from unaccompanied children. In the same period, it had raised 705 age
disputes, roughly 1 in 4. Of the 705, 618 had been resolved. In 216 (35%) of these 618 cases, the
Local Authority assessed the claimant to be under 18, and in 402 (65%) cases they were assessed
to be over 18 (an adult). Compared with the previous 12 months, the percentage of disputes
raised was down (from c.30%) as was the percentage (32%) found to be children.
That means nearly 14 per cent of all applicants were deemed to be under-18.
Mr Bolt, the independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, published the findings in the report on the Home Office’s treatment of lone child migrants.
Home Office screening officers are told to judge a child based on their ‘physical appearance and demeanour’ if they do not have a birth certificate or travel documents.
The asylum seeker must be ‘afforded the benefit of the doubt and treated as children’ unless they appear ‘significantly’ over 18.
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Local council social workers then assess the person’s age.
Mr Bolt’s report said Home Office staff ‘did not feel confident about making initial age assessments of applicants claiming to be children, particularly judging whether the claimant was ‘significantly over 18’ and should be entered into the adult process’.
It added: ‘They received no training to help them make such judgements. Some local authorities were concerned that the Home Office applied its “benefit of the doubt” policy too readily, and highlighted the risks of wrongly placing an adult with children in their care.’
Tory MP Tim Loughton, a member of the Commons home affairs select committee, told MailOnline: ‘We have been a soft touch in too many cases for asylum seekers who abuse our hospitality by elaborating their credentials.
‘It is right we give a safe haven to those who are in danger but too often we have been too trusting.’
There have been 12,942 disputes over the ages of child asylum seekers since 2006, according to Home Office figures.
Nearly 6,000 of those disputes found the asylum seeker to be over 18 in this period.
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘After consultation with stakeholders we published revised guidance on age assessments and we have committed to produce more child-friendly information in a range of languages to help children better understand the asylum system.’