Asylum seeker threatened after being accused of lying about age to attend school
An asylum seeker accused of lying about his age to attend a Suffolk school is reported to have suffered abuse and threats.
Suffolk police is understood to be investigating after reports that a pupil at Stoke High School in Ipswich was actually a 30-year-old man led to him and his host family being hounded by vigilantes.
Classmates of the year 11 pupil said he lied to authorities about his age to get a UK education. While he claimed to be 15, fellow pupils said he was actually twice as old. A picture of the pupil shared on Snapchat was captioned: “How is there a 30-year-old man in our maths class”.
MORE: High school pupil under investigation amid claims he is aged 30The pupil, who is believed to be an asylum seeker from the Middle East, has since shut down his Facebook profile and is not attending classes.
He and his host family are understood to be receiving support from an organisation which helps refugees in the region.
Suffolk police is also said to have been helping amid reports of threatening behaviour.
A police spokesman said they were unable to comment.
Many parents had been shocked by the prospect of an adult sharing classrooms and changing rooms with children.
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One parent said their son had to be persuaded to go to school “as he felt uneasy knowing that a man twice his age could be sharing the dinner hall with him”.
“He said that the school was very quiet today and a few of his friends didn’t come in,” the parent added.
Ipswich MP Sandy Martin has also criticised the situation and said the Home Office “should have done their job properly in the first place”.
Christopher Hudson, who represents the nearby Belstead Brook division at Suffolk County Council, said parents of children attending the school had contacted him with their concerns.
“People are asking ‘are adequate checks being made’?” he said.
While Mr Hudson said he sympathised with the hardships faced by people fleeing troubled countries, he added he was worried details about a pupil’s age could be misrepresented.
He urged authorities to carry out stricter checks, including dental tests, to determine age.
The school, which is part of the Ormiston Academies Trust, said the matter had been referred to the Home Office.
The Home Office is understood to be investigating the claims.
What is the policy on determining an asylum seeker’s age?
According to official guidance, Home Office staff are told to give “the benefit of the doubt” to asylum seekers who claim to be children so as to avoid safeguarding risks of detaining them alongside adults.
Staff are advised to consider all available evidence when determining a claimant’s probable age, including their physical appearance and demeanour. The advice says people may appear older if they have faced trauma or taken on responsibilities normally associated with adulthood.
Earlier this year, however, the Home Office advice was criticised for being “too vague” in a report by the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, David Bolt.
Among his findings, Mr Bolt said Home Office staff did not feel confident about making age assessments of asylum seekers, particularly judging whether the claimant was “significantly over 18”.
Some local authorities were said to be concerned the Home Office applied its “benefit of the doubt” policy too readily, and highlighted the risks of wrongly placing an adult with children in their care.
The report stated that Home Office data for 2016/17 showed that in cases where the claimant’s age was disputed, 65% had been found to be adults, while 35% were children.
Responding to the report, the Home Office said its updated advice on assessing the age of claimants provided “comprehensive guidance” for its staff, particularly when assessing whether an applicant’s appearance or demeanour suggests they are over 18.
A Home Office spokesman said that when concerns are raised about a claimant’s age its policy is to ask social services to complete a full age assessment.
Suffolk County Council acknowledged it worked with the Home Office on some asylum seeker applications, but said it had “zero involvement” in the Stoke High School case.
The Refugee Council said many young people seeking asylum in the UK faced difficulties verifying their date of birth with official documents.
“Many countries from which refugees come do not register births in the same way as in this country, and often people may not be able to obtain passports or travel documents from the government from which they are escaping,” said policy manager Judith Dennis.
“Without other information to immediately identify them as children, young people may be incorrectly judged to be an adult on their appearance alone.
“Appearance is a particularly unreliable indicator of age, especially when children are going through puberty and appearances can vary widely based on the young person’s ethnic background, genetics and experiences.
“Research has established that there is no single method of assessing a person’s age and it is broadly accepted that it is a difficult task and that benefit of the doubt must be applied. We are not in a position to comment on this individual case.”