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Understanding the needs of young asylum seekers
  1. M A Lyncha,
  2. C Cuninghameb
  1. aDepartment of Community Paediatrics, Guy's, King's and St Thomas' School of Medicine, Newcomen Centre, Guy's Hospital, St Thomas Street, London SE1 9RT, UK, bCentral and East European Programme, Save the Children, 17 Grove Lane, London SE5 8RD, UK
  1. Prof. Lynch margaret.lynch{at}

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Armed conflicts and political violence around the globe are forcing increasing numbers to flee their homes and seek refuge in European countries and elsewhere. In this country recent legislation1 will change the way in which subsistence allowance and accommodation are to be provided, eroding asylum seekers' former rights, including those intended by national and international law to safeguard the welfare of children. Under the dispersal policy it is intended to allocate asylum seekers to selected “cluster” areas throughout the country. Some will find themselves housed where there is little experience of providing health care to refugees. To respond adequately, health professionals must appreciate the problems faced by asylum seekers and refugees and gain some knowledge of the benefits to which they are entitled. Refugee children and young people face multiple disadvantages. Many come from cultural and religious backgrounds with which those in the statutory services who will be responsible for providing care are unfamiliar. They usually speak little or no English and will often have witnessed and suffered events outside the experience of doctors, teachers, and social workers in this country. Promoting these children's physical and mental health deserves special consideration, extending beyond ensuring access to services. The background information presented here is intended to inform those who find themselves providing care to refugee children and their families.

Recognition of refugee status

To become officially recognised as a refugee, an individual must be judged to have left his or her country “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”.2 An asylum seeker describes someone who has crossed an international border in search of safety. Refugee status, which is only granted after investigation by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) of the Home Office includes the right to …

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