The Federation Press

Seeking Asylum Alone - A Comparative Study

Unaccompanied and Separated Children and Refugee Protection in Australia, the UK and the US


“Then I was enclosed in a small room .... I could see faces of other young people in their own cells. We had a place to sleep, a cell, very hot, it had a toilet. My heart started to race in the room. I was worried. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me”.

These are the words of a seventeen-year-old boy who fled gang violence in El Salvador only to find himself in a detention centre in Texas. His experience, and that of the thousands of other children who cross borders unaccompanied every year in search of protection, is explored in a new international study, Seeking Asylum Alone.

This international comparative report describes the nature and scale of the migration of unaccompanied and separated children, the complex and unsatisfactory policies and procedures which funnel children through an adversarial system that frequently ignores their best interests and violates their human rights, and the range of remedies available to children. Drawing on government data, court proceedings and hundreds of interviews with officials, advocates and the children themselves, the report highlights serious deficiencies in current practice. It documents the inadequacy of current data collection, the hurdles children face in getting access to a place of safety, the inadequacies of reception, detention, and care systems, the severe limitations on legal representation and due process, and the unsatisfactory state of final protection outcomes.

The report arrives at two general conclusions. One is that the serious protection deficits highlighted by the data require urgent rectification: children should be treated as children first and non-citizens or aliens second, if states’ human rights obligations are going to be met. The second conclusion is that many unaccompanied or separated children have a stronger claim to asylum under international law than is generally recognized, and that child specific persecution should be investigated more seriously and systematically: legal actors should substitute for their adult centred lens a more child centred focus. The recommendations that follow from these conclusions can, the report argues, be implemented relatively easily and economically, with more systematic training and monitoring, and without jeopardizing states’ migration management programs.

Directed by two law professors, Jacqueline Bhabha, a lecturer at Harvard Law School, and Mary Crock, an associate professor at Sydney Law School, the two year comparative research project documents the circumstances and treatment of unaccompanied and separated child asylum seekers in three key destination countries, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. The study has resulted in four substantial research reports, one on each of the three countries in which research was conducted, and this fourth generic and comparative report, which brings together all the country specific findings. All the reports are now accessible on-line at:; and at

Also available Seeking Asylum Alone - A study of Australian law, policy and practice regarding unaccompanied and separated children, by Mary Crock.

Table of Contents

The Challenge of Child Migration
Journeys of a Litetime: The Phenomenon of Unaccompanied and Separated Children Travelling Alone
Responding the to Needs of Unaccompanied and Separated Children: International Benchmarks for Protection
Law and Policy in State Practice: The Reception, Identification, and Treatment of Unaccompanied and Separated Children
Unaccompanied and Separated Children and Asylum Processes
The Deflection of Child Asylum Seekers: Non Entree, Interdiction, and Offshore Processing
Children and Refugee Status: Who Gains Recognition as a Refugee?
Protection Outcomes
Towards More Comprehensive Protection for Unaccompanied and Separated Children Travelling Alone

Glossary of Terms
Legislation, Cases and International Instruments

Of interest...