CYP in Refugee and Asylum System

Scroll down to find out more about this issue - including a summary for children and young people, background information including the relevant Children's Rights, how we are monitoring Government and our work in addressing the issue.


Summary for children and young people

Part of being a human being is to migrate and whilst the media often gives the impression that levels of migration are increasing, this is not the case. Global migration levels have not changed much since the second world war, with international migrants accounting for about 3% of the world’s population. Refugees represent around 0.3%.

Yet while migration was once largely about Europeans making their way to the northern and southern American continents – arguably the biggest illegal migration was European colonisation – today the direction of travel has changed. More people are moving to the Global North, from a wider range of countries, than before. This has generated toxic political debate and misinformation with people frequently grouped into “pro” or “anti” immigration camps, preventing us from seeing migration as it really is. In the United Kingdom, there have been a number of pieces of legislation over recent years fed by the ‘anti’ immigration rhetoric making it much harder for those who are migrating to the UK including children and young people in the refugee and asylum system.

While asylum is not devolved, Northern Ireland Departments have responsibilities in safeguarding and protecting the rights of children and young people within the refugee and asylum systems. This includes the rights protected under the Refugee Convention, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children Act 1985: for example, health, education, and ensuring that no child or young person falls into destitution. When asylum seekers are granted refugee status, they receive the same entitlements as other citizens of Northern Ireland.

Hostile Environment

On 25 May 2012 Theresa May, the then home secretary said, “The aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration.” The phrase has become a shorthand for legislation and policies over the years aimed at cracking down on those who seeking international protection in the UK. More than a decade on and the hostile environment is still around as evidenced by the Illegal Migration Act last year.

Information on Children & Young People in the Refugee and Asylum System

The Commissioner for Children (NI) Order 2003 makes no distinction with regards to the immigration status of children. The UNCRC and the protections of the Commissioner’s office must be made available to them as much as any other child living in Northern Ireland.This decline in political commitment safeguarding the rights of those in the refugee and asylum system and in particular to children and young is deeply concerning with the potential of increased risks of exploitation of children.

NICCY is therefore calling on the NI Executive to:

  • Ensure our child protection systems are resourced to effectively support children and young people in need.
  • Provide collective political leadership in tackling racism and xenophobia.
  • Ensure that the views of children and young people inform policy making; and
  • Deliver on fully costed and resourced Racial Equality, Refugee Integration and the Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Strategies.

Overall it is imperative that all policy and practice is compliant with Northern Ireland’s obligations under the UNCRC adopting a children’s rights lens and approach.

In 2021 NICCY published A Hostile Environment: Children and families affected by immigration status and No Recourse to Public Funds. This report emerged out of the considerable work undertaken by NICCY in relation to child poverty which identified ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) as a priority area for action in order to meaningfully realise children and young people’s rights in Northern Ireland. NICCY commissioned this report to provide an overview of relevant legislation, policy and guidance relating to NRPF, as well as a review of existing routes to support children, young people and families subject to NRPF.  The paper also included reflections of the impact of COVID-19 on children, young people, and families who may be affected by NRPF. A number of recommendations were made including the need for up-to-date disaggregated data on those families with children subject to NRPF conditions and the need to provide clear and unambiguous mechanisms and pathways between government and statutory agencies to improve the ease with which families negotiate the support processes.

Relevant Children's Rights