Benny Hunter Profile picture
Jun 24 33 tweets 7 min read
An unaccompanied 16-year-old Eritrean boy turned up at our youth club this week, just after opening, with some others.

He was a new face so I asked him how long he'd been in the UK and he said: "today".

I said: "what do you mean 'today'?"
He said: "I arrived, just today".

He'd arrived into London that morning, in the back of a lorry, and had somehow found his way to Brixton.

There he saw another Eritrean young person by a bus stop and he asked him for help.

That young person brought him to our youth club in Streatham.
All he had on him were the clothes he was wearing and a small satchel with a little brick phone that had run out of battery.

He looked tired, dishevelled and a bit stressed out.
He told us he had spent a year alone in Calais.

You can only imagine the difficulties he must have experienced in the last year of street homelessness: in accessing food and water, in keeping in touch with loved ones, with the French police and with the smugglers
And before reaching Calais the journeys that Eritrean minors go through are always traumatic.

From Eritrea to war-torn Northern Ethiopia, to Sudan, through the Sahara Desert, to Libya where migrants face being exploited and held at ransom by gangs, detention and abuse.
Then across the Med Sea to Europe. It was possible that he had started that journey with loved ones and been separated from them en route or that they had perished, as others who attend our youth club have experienced.

Or he may have been entirely alone the whole way.
I don't know why he left Eritrea.

The country is a one-party state where human rights abuses are commonplace and where teenagers are conscripted indefinitely into the military.

Eritrean asylum applications have a 97% grant rate by the UK Home Office.
I don't know why he chose the UK as a destination.

Many young Eritreans end up settling in other countries in Europe, such as in Germany or Sweden or the Netherlands.
It may be that the destination was chosen for him by adults he travelled with.

Or that he'd tried to reach safety in other countries and been turned away or experienced problems there.

Or that he was a victim of trafficking and it had been against his choice.
Either way he had now reached his destination and what he needed now was reassurance that he was safe and secure and that he was welcome.

So we gave him some delicious Eritrean food - injera and sauce. And chance to relax and to play games with other young people.
While he was eating I made a call to the local authority social services to explain what had happened.

And soon after I received a call back from an out-of-hours social worker.
The first question the social worker asked me was "does he look like the age he says he is?". I said yes he does.

Immediately the people entrusted to protect this child hold him in suspicion.

There were no questions about how I viewed his welfare, whether he was in distress.
I was told that I would need to bring this child to a police station.

I asked why this was necessary in order for him to be brought into the care of social services? Couldn't the social worker visit us as our youth club?

She explained it was for the police to do "checks" on him
She explained that he might have previously approached a different local authority (and so wouldn't be their responsibility).

Again, this social worker was unwilling to trust what the child had told us and what were telling them.

He'd only arrived in the UK that morning.
It was 8pm at night. This teenage boy had just been through a traumatic experience. He was tired.

What he needed in that moment was a bed and some rest somewhere safe.

What he didn't need was to be grilled by the police about his 'illegal' mode of entry.
This was a seriously vulnerable child whose welfare needs are being put second to the needs of the state to police and enforce immigration rules.

And this has been happening to asylum-seeking young people for some time.
In 2016, an unaccompanied teenage Eritrean just a year older than this boy, also arrived into London in the back of a lorry.

He was then arrested, handcuffed and taken into police custody.

The following day he took his own life.

You can read the SCR:…
The local authority I was dealing with this week would not budge on their requirement that the child speak with the Met police before being brought into care.

I advocated on his half and I tried to push his welfare needs up the agenda.
I even raised concerns about the impact of changes to the immigration rules, including the new "crimes of arrival" that might mean this child would be arrested.

At one point I was speaking to the head of children's services for the Borough. No one wanted to listen.
In the end he was not accommodated that night from our youth club, but was taken to the police station by a social worker the next day. After they did their "checks", he was placed with a foster care family.
So how has this situation come about, that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are being treated with suspicion & are being policed before they can access child protection?

The local authority told me they were following the guidance under something called 'Operation Innerste'
Operation Innerste is a Home Office and police-led initiative to combat modern slavery and human trafficking as it affects children. It was first trialled in 2017 in Hertfordshire constabulary and has since been expanded and rolled out in other parts of the country.
More details can be read here:…
It appears to shift the focus from children's services as first responders to unaccompanied children - to the police as first responders.

Children have their fingerprints and photograph forcibly taken and this information is passed to immigration enforcement.
The New Nationality and Border's Act which comes into force next week introduces new criminal offences for people who enter the UK through irregular means in order to claim asylum. We are yet to see how this plays out in practice.…
At the same time as social services hand over responsibilities on child protection to the police and the Home Office - the police are going to be expected to enforce new laws on illegal entry.
And while the number of unaccompanied children being disbelieved about their age and treated as adults has increased more than two-fold.
In the last month there have been unaccompanied children locked up detention, facing deportation to Rwanda, because they have been disbelieved about their ages.

This from the @FT:
So why are local authorities continuing to further Home Office policy?

This is an extremely dangerous precedent.

These children don't need more policing and immigration enforcement. They need social services to stand up to the continued erosion of their rights.
I just want to bring this thread to a close by saying clearly what is at risk here: the child protection system no longer applying to refugee and migrant children.
We're already seeing children's rights being eroded by this government and I think social workers, local authorities need to stand by the vulnerable young people in their area and not do the bidding of this hard-right government. /fin
Wanted to come back here to say that there is an alternative to this mistrust and suspicion and policing of unaccompanied minors that I witnessed. Social workers can and do put the needs of children first.

• • •

Missing some Tweet in this thread? You can try to force a refresh

Keep Current with Benny Hunter

Benny Hunter Profile picture

Stay in touch and get notified when new unrolls are available from this author!

Read all threads

This Thread may be Removed Anytime!


Twitter may remove this content at anytime! Save it as PDF for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video
  1. Follow @ThreadReaderApp to mention us!

  2. From a Twitter thread mention us with a keyword "unroll"
@threadreaderapp unroll

Practice here first or read more on our help page!

More from @BennnyH

Jun 25
Was thinking about the thread I wrote yesterday about the unaccompanied minor at our youth club - and I'm pleasantly surprised by the strong reaction its received.

But if you think that's bad, wait until you hear what else is going on.

Another quick 🧵
Here's the original tweet thread if you haven't read it yet:
I worry about how surveilled and police these vulnerable young people are - and how little compassion is often exhibited by social services.

But I have been witness to even worse actions taken against refugee children.
Read 25 tweets
Jun 11
Need people down at Evan cook close now ! Immigration raid.
We are still here.
They have 1 person in the van. Police have arrived threatening arrest of people peacefully blocking the van. No arrests yet and police have been here 10 min.
Read 18 tweets

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just two indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3/month or $30/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Don't want to be a Premium member but still want to support us?

Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal

Or Donate anonymously using crypto!


0xfe58350B80634f60Fa6Dc149a72b4DFbc17D341E copy


3ATGMxNzCUFzxpMCHL5sWSt4DVtS8UqXpi copy

Thank you for your support!

Follow Us on Twitter!