By Melis Ozbardakci, RRE Programme Associate
The vulnerability and the special needs of young asylum seekers are far too often overlooked. Most young asylum seekers in the UK would have left their home countries as children and subsequently experience harmful and traumatic environments that impact them deeply.
In 2019, there were reportedly over 6,600 18 to 25-year-olds recorded as main applicants in dispersed accommodation across the UK, and 548 in initial accommodation. Despite these high numbers, young asylum seekers don’t receive sufficient care within the current asylum system.
They tend to be left isolated and unsupported once they reach the UK. This is why Refugee Rights Europe started a campaign in 2019 with partners calling for Youth Welfare Officers (YWO) in asylum accommodation to provide much-needed support.
Youth Welfare Officers are vital for young asylum seekers to have healthy lives in the future. Young asylum seekers need mental health support in order to cope with the trauma they have endured. They need someone to guide them upon their arrival in the UK.
Many young asylum seekers feel isolated from the world and lonely. They need someone who will ensure that they know their rights and are able to access the support they need. Youth Welfare Officers can provide asylum-seeking youth aged 18-25 years with the care and guidance they so desperately need, as is provided to young adults leaving local authority care.
RRE is therefore thrilled to announce that a Youth Welfare Officer pilot scheme has been launched, with two Officers being recruited to support young people in London and Birmingham respectively.
The Officers will be hosted by refugee charities that have the experience, expertise and practical know-how to ensure the pilot’s success, and to fill a much-needed gap. We are convinced that this will make a real difference to the lives of young asylum seekers in the UK.
Following the launch of the YWO pilot, RRE will continue to work to:
- Ensure that the programme remains true to the original vision of the YWO which was born out of a veritable need identified by groups working directly with young people on the ‘frontlines’ of UK’s asylum system
- Monitor and evaluate the impact of the YWO pilot scheme to develop a replicable model of best practice
- Develop strategic communications and advocacy around the pilot model, in order to encourage relevant stakeholders to commit to a scaled-up programme over time.
The pilot scheme is testament to the fact that our campaign has already had a positive impact. We are grateful to many of our supporters who wrote to their MPs and to the 70 MPs and charities who backed our initial proposal.
Now, our action is becoming a reality and we hope that this is only the beginning of a wider scheme, which can help erode the UK’s ‘hostile environment’ one step at a time.