NYAS Cymru has written to Welsh parliamentary committees on the Nationality and Borders Bill, setting out significant concerns over so-called “scientific” methods to determine the age of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. The Welsh Parliament Health and Social Care Committee alongside the Children, Young People and Education Committee will be scrutinising Welsh Government’s decisions in consenting to aspects of this new legislation that impact devolved powers.

NYAS Cymru has significant concerns about the vaguely termed “scientific methods” set out in the Bill to determine the age of people seeking asylum. We understand there is no known scientific method that can precisely determine age, and that the preference in Wales has always been for a multi-agency approach. Such methods can be invasive and traumatising for individuals, particularly those who have suffered torture, inhuman and degrading treatment before arriving in Wales.

According to the Nationality and Borders Bill, consent will be required from an age disputed person before a “specified scientific method” is used, as long as they have capacity to give it. However, if the age disputed person refuses to consent, NYAS Cymru is concerned about the pressure the state will then put on the outcome of their asylum application or age assessment.

NYAS Cymru has been campaigning for a ‘do no harm’ principle that extends across agencies to recognise and reduce the likelihood of traumatising or retraumatising young people with certain policies and decision-making. The impact of this legislation could undermine efforts by services to be trauma-informed and protect mental health.

We believe that any legislation or policy that publicly emphasises an institutional lack of trust between governments and asylum-seeking children is likely to undermine community cohesion. Sadly, the UK Government messaging around the Nationality and Borders Bill has often contradicted the attempts in Wales to be inclusive and welcoming as a ‘nation of sanctuary’.

NYAS Cymru worked closely with Welsh Government last year to make sure that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children were provided with clear summaries in their first language as to the mental health and wellbeing offer in Wales, including how to access that support. This was part of our ‘Place of Safety’ campaign to improve the ‘asylum journey’ for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Wales.

Sharon Lovell, NYAS Cymru Chief Executive, says, “The Nationality and Borders Bill threatens to undermine the promise Wales has made to a ‘nation of sanctuary’ for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We will continue to work with Welsh Government and the Senedd to challenge this law and protect rights within the age assessment process.”

The Nationality and Borders Bill was approved by MPs in December 2021 and is currently in committee stage in the House of Lords.