The National Youth Advocacy Service (Nyas) is a not-for-profit children's charity that offers advocacy services to children, young people, parents, carers and professionals. At present the service is struggling to deal with the demands of child asylum seekers looking for help.
"We currently provide some 10 per cent of the legal representation to young, unaccompanied asylum seekers in London," explains Mary Mullin, director of Nyas's legal services. "It's become hugely problematic to obtain support for these desperate young people, and our staff are working long and unfunded hours to try and help them."
According to Nyas, there are an estimated 6,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the UK. Most have their application for refugee status refused early on. Nyas works in partnership with Save the Children, which has helped the charity set up its legal advice service for unaccompanied asylum-seeker children. The service has a contract with the Legal Services Commission (LSC) to receive public funds for asylum claims; however that money is limited.
"Nyas wishes to provide support to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who arrive in the UK alone, often traumatised and always frightened," says Mullin. "Most have had experience of one or more of the following in their home country: rape, the murder of their parents and other family members, civil war, famine, female circumcision and political and religious persecution."
Once in the UK, Nyas reports that these children are abandoned by any courier who may have helped them to enter the country illegally, or abandoned by their parents who feel that they would have a better life alone in this country.
"They are without money, accommodation, food and appropriate clothing, and they're traumatised, suffering mental health problems and are socially isolated, having lost all links with their own communities," says Mullin. Social services will not support those who are older than 16.
Nyas recently helped a young asylum seeker from Chechnya. He claimed asylum on the grounds that the civil war led to him losing his family. His only surviving family members were scattered all over Europe, in Germany, France, Italy and Finland. Asylum was refused, but he was granted discretionary leave to remain until his eighteenth birthday. "He urgently needs help to make contact and visit his scattered relatives in the various European countries," says Emmanuel Ilegogie, a solicitor at the charity, who helps some 150 children a year with their asylum claims. "The killings witnessed as a result of the war in Chechnya have really affected this boy," adds Ilegogie. There is no funding for a case like this, but Nyas's case workers have nevertheless been able to help him trace his relatives.
Nyas is calling for the LSC to reconsider the requirements and limitations on the provision of legal advice for young people because the group argues that it "does not allow for their vulnerability".