News and Debate

24 Jan 2024
New Freedom of Information request from the Refugee Council and Helen Bamber Foundation shows that more than 1,300 children seeking asylum were wrongly assessed as adults by the Home Office between January 2022 and June 2023.

In that period the Humans for Rights Network  was aware of at least 15 cases of children, wrongly assessed as adults after cursory visual age assessment at the Dover arrival facilities, who had been jailed with adults under Section 24 and 25 of the 2022 Nationality and Borders Act

Age assessment at the border simply does not work. With Parliament currently debating removing adult asylum seekers to Rwanda, it is imperative that children be correctly assessed and treated as children as they arrive. We believe at the Baobab Centre:
  • any age assessment done upon arrival after gruesome, traumatic journeys should have temporary validity, so that children can be interviewed later when they have recovered from their journey;
  • age assessments should be over time by multidisciplinary teams;
  • only people assessed as significantly over 25  should be age assessed as adults by the Home Office.

7 Dec 2023
91% of people on asylum support in the UK "don't always have enough money to buy food", a new report finds
Asylum Matters today publishes a new report that shows the alarming level of marginalisation and destitution endured by asylum seekers on asylum support in the UK. Their survey of 300 asylum seekers makes for grim reading and shows how the asylum support system is working against the goal of rehabilitation and integration of asylum seekers into the UK's social and economic life.

(source: Asylum Matters, "Surviving in Poverty", Dec. 2023)

At the Baobab Centre, where our young people currently wait an average of 3 years and 10 months to receive refugee protection after arriving alone and destitute, almost half of them require hardship support from us to survive -- just to survive, as they then face significant barriers to accessing education, skills-development or jobs.

We join Asylum Matters in calling on the government to
  • increase rates of asylum support (currently £6.77 per day) to bring them in line with Universal Credit levels of support (£10.42 per day for under-25s);
  • allow asylum seekers the right to work as soon as possible after arrival, and certainly after 6 months of claiming asylum. 
  • faciliate access to education. Currently, only 25% of our 18-25 year-old Baobab community members have ever attended some university (compared to 47% in the 2023 Department of Education CHEP measure)

30 November 2023
The Illegal Immigration Act (2023) became law on 20 July 2023.
The act creates a duty to remove any asylum seeker arrived via an irregular route (any route not one of the few official schemes run by the UK), and will make any asylum claim from someone arrived like this inadmissible in the UK, therefore leading to people being detained while waiting for their removal.

New research from the Refugee Council on the likely impact of this act finds that:

  • ¨In the first three years of the legislation coming into effect, between 225,347 and 257,101 people will have their asylum claims deemed inadmissible. This includes between 39,500 and 45,066 children."
  • By end of 2026 "between 161,147 and 192,670 people will have had their asylum claims deemed inadmissible but will not have been removed." There are currently "up to 3,000 detention places available".
These are shocking numbers.

If implemented, this act will lead to a social care disaster of massive proportions, with rapidly increasing numbers of people, including young people, with no path to integration in UK society. Young people who arrive irregularly, even if unaccompanied, will be detained waiting for removal. This includes children under 18 who will be detained pending removal once they turn 18 in the UK, regardless of how many years they may have lived here. 

Along with all organisations in the sector, the Baobab Centre continues to be engaged for the immediate repeal of this cruel and unworkable policy.

We advocate for an alternative system based on fast-tracking integration of asylum seekers and providing certainty in legal status to all.

26 Jan 2023
Children missing from Home Office hotel accommodation - a letter to Rishi Sunak

With more than 100 other organisations, the Baobab Centre today writes to the UK Prime Minister to express its shock and grave concerns over the disappearance into trafficking of children in the care of the Home Office.

Together with our partners in the sector, we demand an immediate end to the use of hotels as accommodation for unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the UK and a major reform of asylum arrival procedures so that all children seeking safety to the UK are protected.

10 Jan. 2022
"I am an optimistic person, but I feel hopeless right now."

Byline Times' Katharine Quarmby recently came to Baobab to interview young Afghans and our Director Sheila Melzak about the impact that the Taliban's threats against their families in Afghanistan is having on their lives in the UK .

She is today reporting on how some of our young people are sending all of their earnings and living in debt to make sure younger siblings are not forcefully recruited by the Taliban or their families in Afghanistan beaten up. 

"The Taliban Protection Racket" - ByLine Times

Baobab is again calling on the Government to accelerate the processing of family reunion cases and of the newly-opened Afghanistan Resettlement Scheme (still not running for people currently in Afghanistan), in the hope that our young people can achieve more peace of mind and stability in their efforts to rebuild lives in the UK with their loved ones.

23 Dec. 2021
The Baobab Centre and 24 child and migrants rights organisations signed and released a letter today to urgently demand that key UK safeguarding institutions dramatically improve on their safeguarding duties with regards to children claiming asylum in the UK. As the letter points out, children are made to wait for Home Office decisions for far too long, with dramatically detrimental effects on their mental wellbeing. A write-up of the letter was published in The Guardian.

21 Dec. 2021
As the Government's Anti-Refugee Nationality and Borders Bill makes its way to the House of Lords for a critical second reading, we were thrilled and honoured to meet with Baroness Lister with 8 of Baobab young people. The Baroness listened to the personal stories of each and gave some very useful advice for Baobab to continue its influencing work. We are still fighting to get the most egregious provisions in the government's bill -- such as the distinction between refugees based on route of arrival -- dropped from the bill entirely, and language reflecting our significant concerns about mental wellbeing of refugee children included in the bill.

2 Dec. 2021
Third meeting for our advocacy efforts, this time with Jess Phillips MP, who encouraged our young people to not hesitate and "speak truth to power". A group of our young people attended the meeting and presented their circumstances, calling for more action on the Afghan Resettlement Scheme, and for more spirited opposition to the Nationality and Borders bill to be discussed in Parliament. 

As one of the young people put it to Jess,
"we can't go to Parliament and make change but you can. You are our hope."

30 Nov. 2021
As part of our influencing and advocacy efforts to defeat the Nationality and Borders Bill a group of young people from our community had a dynamic and highly motivating discussion with Lord Alf Dubs this morning.
Lots of encouragement for young people to put pressure on their MPs and not give up the fight, from an exceptional,  inspirational figure... And a detailed discussion also about mental health issues, including the soon-to-be-launched report that Lord Dubs has commissioned on the patchy provisions for mental health in the UK asylum system - report to be launched on 9 Dec. 

22 Nov. 2021

Bambos Charalambous
, MP for Enfield and Shadow Minister for the Home Office, came to visit Baobab today and meet with some of our young people. Our young survivors discussed how they had been repeatedly failed by the UK asylum system and the "hostile environment", and why the Government's new Nationality and Borders Bill must be defeated. They talked how they're systematically disbelieved, about faulty age assessments, or Home Office interviews conducted in ways that re-traumatize survivors of violence. Several young people have families in Afghanistan trapped in increasingly dangerous situations, and yet the Afghan Resettlement Scheme is not open. 
Several amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill have been tabled and will be discussed when the bill goes to the Commons in December -- and we'll be bringing the voices of our young people into the debates.

16 Nov. 2021
Our friends at Refugee Action have put out a clear video about the Government's Nationality and Borders Bill, currently discussed in the Commons:
"Why We Call It The Anti-Refugee Bill" -- a bill that seeks to expand punishment of asylum seekers instead of setting up a system that protects people seeking safety, welcomes them and makes sure to facilitate their rehabilitation.

22 Sept. 2021
The powerful and tragic testimonies of two Afghan young men from the Baobab community are featured in this report from ByLine Times published today 22 Sept.:
‘They Are Keeping Us Here to be Killed’: The Loyal Afghans Abandoned by Johnson’s Government – Byline Times
One young Baobab community member, reflecting on the lack of any visa route for his family now, told Katharine Quarmby of ByLine Times: "In five years they won't even exist." 

Clinical director Sheila Melzak adds: "[young Afghans at Baobab] feel helpless to protect their families and guilty that they are living in relative stability in the UK while their family members are at risk of being killed.”

All Afghan families need help now.

14 Sept. 2021
Prof. Liza Schuster (City University of London) came to the Baobab Centre to discuss her recent experience of being evacuated from Kabul with our Afghan young people. Many questions were asked about family reunion -- and the long waiting times involved in family reunion applications -- as our young people have close family members, a sister, a mother, sometimes a wife and child, still in Afghanistan now fearing for their safety and their future.
​A difficult, emotional, but important meeting.

20 August 2021
The whole community at the Baobab Centre is deeply concerned by the recent events in Afghanistan and has issued the following statement:

19 August 2021

The Baobab Centre today joins the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and 90 other UK-based organisations in calling for the UK government to scrap its plans to criminalize the asylum system. 
The full statement is available here.

As recent events in Afghanistan sadly demonstrate, people seeking safety need access to safe routes to asylum now and are entitled to claim asylum, no matter whether they arrived through resettlement plans, or in a hurry from boats or planes out of Kabul. 

23 June 2021
Our director Sheila Melzak will speak at the upcoming webinar
"Proposals for a Model Court for Migrant Children"
organized by First Rights - Equal Justice for Migrant Children and Routes (University of Exeter). This event will convene experts to finalize the proposals by Equal Justice for Migrant Children for a fairer judicial process inclusive of children's well-being and welfare at every stage. You can register here to follow this event - June 23, 5pm-7:15pm.

24 May 2021

The Baobab Centre today joins the Together With Refugees campaign, a coalition of UK human rights associations that are united in calling for a fairer, more humane, and more welcoming asylum system.
The UK asylum system is broken. The government needs to scrap its current plans and  honor its obligations under the 1951 Refugee convention to offer protection and refuge to those fleeing traumatic, life-threatening violence. It needs to start listening to the stories of those who have reached the UK, by any means, in order to find hope and rebuild their lives.
The Baobab Centre will use the opportunity of the planned debate on the Government's proposals to make sure the voices of Baobab's young refugees and asylum seekers are heard, and their interests defended.

22 May 2021
Why do people leave home for perilous journeys to safety, and why do they bring their children along? The Guardian has asked some of the people rescued by NGO Sea-Eye in the Meditarrenean, one of the four NGOs currently saving lives between Libya and Italy.

13 May 2021
Author Daniel Trilling (latest book: Lights in the Distance: Exile and Refuge at the Borders of Europe, 2018) publishes a detailed, if grim, investigation into what is broken at the Home Office: "Cruel, paranoid, failing: inside the Home Office", in today's Guardian -- with even more testimonies of Home Office dysfunctions in the letter section.

12 May 2021
10 civil society organisations across Europe publish a report today documenting no fewer than 2,162 cases of border pushbacks across Europe and within European countries between January and April 2021 only. Following on recent investigation by The Guardian that some 40,000 asylum seekers had been illegally refouled during the pandemic from EU borders, this is more worrying evidence that Western countries are failing to uphold their responsibilities under the 1951 Refugee Conventions to protect the rights of asylum seekers to find refuge. The full report can be read here, and a short article on the report from The Guardian can be accessed here.

21 April 2021
A Guardian/Lost in Europe investigation has found that more than 18,000 unaccompanied child migrants have gone missing in Europe between January 2018 and December 2020 - findings that "raise serious questions about the extent European countries are able or willing to protect unaccompanied child migrants".
Read more here.

March 2021
The Baobab Centre joins other organisations fighting for the defense of the rights of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK to express its strong opposition to the changes to the UK asylum system as proposed by the current Home Secretary. 
Our full statement:

February 2021

Visit "My World"
A Baobab Centre exhibition of photographs of daily life, from all our community members

June 2020
Baobab stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Read our community statement:

30 June 2020

The Baobab Centre joins the National Children's Bureau and 152 other organisations in calling on the Prime Minister to make children a priority in the government's response to the coronavirus crisis.

Find out more at

April 2019
The Baobab Center joins The Children's Society, ECPAT UK and 40 others to appeal to Home Secretary
Read this
Press Release from The Children's Society and ECPAT UK:
The Children’s Society and ECPAT UK and more than 40 others join forces to appeal to Home Secretary.
The Children’s Society, Every Child Protected against Trafficking (ECPAT UK) and 43 others have written a letter to Sajid Javid urging him to do more to help all separated and trafficked children.
Signatories include UNICEF UK, NSPCC, the Refugee Council, Action for Children and the International Organization for Migration. The organisations have joined forces to call on the Home Secretary to introduce independent legal guardians to support all separated and trafficked children and not just those suspected as victims of modern slavery. It follows the publication of the third interim report on child trafficking advocates, as part of the review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
The review is considering what support is available to young victims of modern slavery, among other provisions. While the group welcomes many of the recommendations, they contend that the report has missed an opportunity to protect some of the most vulnerable children in our society; those in the UK on their own, separated from their families, with no one acting in their best interests.
Many of the organisations who signed the letter have campaigned for the introduction of independent legal guardians; more than 27,000 public supporters recently backed ECPAT UK’s online campaign.
Similar schemes already exist in Northern Ireland and Scotland, where guardianship is available to all unaccompanied children. The respective schemes are provided through each country’s modern slavery legislation, in recognition of its role in identifying and preventing child trafficking. The ongoing review of the Modern Slavery Act provides a crucial opportunity to make sure this form of vital protection is available for separated children in England and Wales too.
Nick Roseveare MBE, Chief Executive at The Children’s Society said: “We know a significant number of separated children report exploitation on their journeys and face increased risks of exploitation, abuse, mental health crisis, suicide and other safeguarding concerns. They are also left with no one to help them navigate complex immigration and asylum processes, ensuring they get into school quickly, or can access support they so often desperately need. Many of them have had to flee their home country due to violence and war, they will have experienced things no child should ever have to. When they arrive in England and Wales, they have no one to act in their best interests and are left to make life-changing, difficult decisions by themselves”
As a group we want better outcomes for all separated children including those who have been trafficked. We are confident guardians would provide the help they need, just as they do in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Collectively, we are urging the Home Secretary to consider introducing this vital protection for children in England and Wales and demonstrate that the Government really does take children’s welfare seriously.”
Every Child Protected against Trafficking (ECPAT UK) is co-leading this action. ECPAT UK’s chief executive, Katherine Mulhern, said:
“While there are positive recommendations emerging from this review, it is extremely disappointing that this issue has been so narrowly viewed.
“Those who work directly with unaccompanied, separated and trafficked children know that guardianship leads to improved identification of victims of trafficking, and the ability to prevent exploitation in the future. Yet in England and Wales there is still no comprehensive guardianship service available to them.
“Our campaigns around this issue have huge public support and demonstrate the public care about the lives of these particularly vulnerable children. That is why so many of us are calling on the Home Secretary to urgently make this happen.”

January 2019
New Article Published on the Journal of Child Psychotherapy - authored by Ferelyth Watt, Akashadevi and Sheila Melzak from the Baobab Centre 
In Winnicott’s idea of the child developing in the context of their family, community and the wider world – assuming good enough parenting – the child has experiences that lead to basic trust. It is here that playing can take place. From this starting point, we want to demonstrate how the different levels of our specific and unique ways of working with and on behalf of young unaccompanied refugees often add up to more than the sum of their parts. Through working flexibly and creatively on the boundary between the ever-shifting internal and external worlds of these multiply traumatised young people, we try to enable them to rediscover the sense of basic trust needed for them to move into adulthood with the freedom and responsibility that step entails.

December 2017
New Home Office and Department of Education safeguarding strategy for asylum-seeking and refugee children​ 
This document is part of a new safeguarding document for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and  refugee children in the UK. It highlights the importance of access to legal representation and legal advice for children.

January 2017
Updated Home Office guidance on permission to work and volunteer for asylum seekers is now available at:

November 2016
Alarming number of trafficked young people going missing from care
Trafficked and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are going missing from UK care at an “alarmingly high” rate, leading charities ECPAT UK and Missing People say in their report, 'Heading Back to Harm' (Nov 2016) available at: