Young Refugees and Asylum Seekers: The Truth about Britain


There are many misconceptions about young refugees and asylum seekers in Britain. Declan Henry dispels these myths and gives a compassionate and empathetic view of the daily struggles they face including discrimination, racism and poverty.

This book explores the reasons why they came to the UK and the safeguarding issues involved, the services they receive and the gaps and inequalities in the system as a whole. The injustice of long Home Office delays in the processing of applications and appeal processes are outlined and, as it is becoming more difficult for many young people to get Leave to Remain, the impact on their lives in terms of accommodation, education and planning for the future are explored. The author also looks at the emotional and mental health needs of young people including those with undiagnosed learning needs and difficulties.

Ultimately, the book paints a graphic picture of what life is like in Britain for young people – cut off from their country of their origin and families – and how they are expected to make a new life in Britain with limited resources.

Declan Henry explains:

“I wrote the book to highlight the unfair treatment and sometimes lack of resources and services available to this group of young people. I also wanted to dispel the misconceptions that mainstream society often holds about them. I interviewed a wide range of young refugees and asylum seekers in the South East of England over a two-year period including teaching creative writing to a class of young asylum seekers at a London college.”

Peter Tatchell (Human rights and LGBT+ campaigner) says of the book:
“This is the true story of Britain's refugees: their humiliation, ill-treatment, demonisation and suffering - but also their courage, ingenuity, determination, setbacks and triumphs. It shows why the harsh, cruel reality of Britain's failed asylum system must be reformed. “

2 reviews for Young Refugees and Asylum Seekers: The Truth about Britain

  1. Marion Kafetz – Trustee, Refugees at Home

    This book gives a comprehensive account of young asylum seekers’ journeys from entry into the UK to gaining refugee status and beyond.

    The chapters are full of facts and figures pointing out the hardships and difficulties young asylum seekers and refugees have to endure, both physical and emotional, while they work their way through the painful complex system.

    Each chapter is clearly laid out with a conclusion summarizing the main points. They are interspersed by moving accounts from the young asylum seekers and refugees of their experiences and feelings. One chapter is wholly devoted to their voices and another compares the services supplied in other countries to those available in Britain.

    The book has many acronyms, difficult to understand for the un- informed reader. However, there is a full glossary at the end of the book which is very helpful.

    I would recommend this book for all staff, and volunteers, including our hosts, involved with our charity, Refugees at Home, and others like ours. The chapter on asylum pitfalls in particular will answer many of the questions appearing on a day-to-day basis. The definition of trauma and the description of various treatments available will be very helpful for those looking after guests. The book gives an insight into the difficulties of young asylum seekers and refugees, from separation and isolation from their families, to the emotional difficulties they may endure. It highlights how these difficulties are exacerbated by lack of sufficient support services, inadequate training for staff, the Home Office creating a hostile environment and the negative attitude of many within our society.

  2. Charlie Beaumont

    This is a very well written book that provides us with a highly challenging read. It confronts the British reader with a reality that exposes how we fail, far too frequently, some of the most vulnerable children and young people in the world. It deserves to be widely read as it offers both an authoritative critique of the asylum process and well considered solutions to the many shortcomings and cruelties identified. Henry’s humanity permeates this book as do his personal experiences.

    The central focus of the book is Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children, all of whom will have left their countries of origin as a result of some form of traumatic event. We learn how the original trauma is often exacerbated by abuse and exploitation they experience at the hands of the adult world as they make their way to Britain and once they are here. Henry, through case studies and one dedicated chapter in the book enables us to hear the voices of some of them. We are told by a 17 year old from Iran that he has never known a day’s happiness in his life. Yet many still report positively on the help they do receive and express very conventional aspirations that include educational qualifications, a good job, their own property and marriage.

    The book reveals the harshness of, and the considerable anxieties caused by, the Home Office procedures and other legal processes which will determine the outcomes for these children and young people as regards their right to remain for the long term in Britain. Similarly Henry highlights how the insufficiency of resources allocated by central government to local authorities results in the care, the accommodation and the education provided not being of the quality these children will need if they are to successfully establish rewarding futures for themselves and contribute positively to their new country.

    The reader is invited, with support provided by detailed analysis of the legislation impacting on the asylum process, to explore the integrity of British governments with regard to the expectations on them as signatories to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Specific reference is made to the right of individuals to seek and to enjoy asylum from persecution in other countries is offered, particularly the powers included in the 2016 UK Immigration Act, that our treatment of this group of asylum seekers tends to run counter to Britain enabling them to attain this right.

    Henry supports his concerns and criticisms by both drawing on research and evidence provided by well informed sources and from his own practice as a qualified Social Worker working with children seeking asylum. He reminds us that we should, as a society, perceives the latter as “ordinary citizens “, wanting ordinary lives. We should empathise with their difficulties in both adjusting to a culture, in which they can feel a sense of alienation, and with their efforts to cope emotionally and behaviourally following the experience of severe trauma.

    The chapter on trauma is particularly illuminating as it helps the reader to understand both the likely reasons for these children to have become traumatised and the types of intervention required if they are to achieve stability. Additionally Henry helps us to gain insight into the challenges the children face on their own as a result of their difficulties with speaking English, having to rely on interpreters who may not have their best interest at heart, of being adolescents and so having to cope with the emotional consequences of that stage of development, and of being uncertain as to what their future will be.

    Both Henry and the young people who contributed to his research, attach considerable importance to the quality of the relationship between the allocated Social Worker and the young person. He raises questions as to whether there is sufficient evidence based practice with regard to how their needs can be most effectively met and whether enough challenges are made professionally where practice has not been seen as anti discriminatory in nature. A culture of disbelief within social work is identified that can result in these vulnerable children not being prioritised in line with their obvious needs. The insufficiency of the resources accessible to social workers, that would enable them to make a difference to individual lives, is presented as a demoralising influence on them.

    The book helps the reader to understand that services will continue to be required for asylum seeking traumatised children. Henry feels that the “problem will continue to intensify because the core roots of war, tyranny and poverty are not being addressed or rectified”. In Britain we clearly must improve our asylum processes and their supporting practices. We now have a very useful template for achieving these outcomes that is provided in this excellent and comprehensive book, which we as a society should follow immediately.

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As a writer, I try to incorporate both sides of humanity into my writing, having learned that life is far from grim and that there is enough kindness, compassion, love and humour to overcome life’s obstacles, regardless of how much misery, abuse, or injustice exists.
Written by Declan Henry


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