Refugee Children's Project

ILPA's Refugee Children's Project, funded by the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Fund, was a three-year project that focused ILPA's work to ensure that children seeking international protection get the best possible representation.  The project ran from June 2010 to December 2012 and was very successful.  Three project coordinators facilitated the running of this project over the course of the three years. The final ILPA Refugee Children’s Project evaluation report can be accessed here.

The project was designed to ensure that there are more immigration practitioners and practitioners in other areas of the law, such as family law, criminal law and community care law, with the skill, confidence and support to undertake work with refugee children and the desire to do so, thus ensuring more and better representation for these children. It provided training, publications and conferences on best practice and related topics. The project was supported and guided by an expert Advisory Group.


At the heart of the project was a series of free training courses, held in different parts of the country and delivered free to participants, who included practitioners in immigration, family, community care and criminal law, as well as staff of organisation members of the Refugee Children's Consortium.

Publications and resources

From the training course materials has come a series of publications:

Working with migrant children: community care law for immigration lawyers Adam Hundt and Zubier Yazdani, ILPA December 2012

Separated Children and Legal Aid Provision Solange Valdez, ILPA December 2012

Resources Guide for Practitioners Working with Refugee Children (Third Edition) ILPA May 2012

Working with children and young people subject to immigration control: Guidelines for best practice (second edition, March 2012), ILPA/Heaven Crawley.

Working with refugee childen: current issues in best practice (second edition, February 2012) Syd Bolton, Kalvir Kaur, Shu Shin Luh, Jackie Peirce and Colin Yeo for ILPA (first edition May 2011 ).

Resources Guide for Practitioners Working with Refugee Children (Second Edition) ILPA November 2011

Resources Guide for Practitioners Working with Refugee Children ILPA May 2011

Information Service

As part of the project, information sheets specifically about refugee children were prepared as part of ILPA's information service, on topics including age disputes, the European citizenship judgment in the Ruiz Zambrano case, the UK Border Agency's Family Returns programme and the Supreme Court judgment in ZH (Tanzania)detention of children, legal aid and children's best interests Many more documents and resources have been delivered to members through the ILPA mailing and Children's subcommittee email list.

Conferences and events

The project helped to support the work of ILPA's Children's Subcommittee, which brings together members with a particular interest in working with refugee children.

First Year Conference

The first ILPA Refugee Children's Conference was held in May 2011 and focused on upholding best practice in working with children.  Some 100 participants, including barristers, solicitors, advocates, staff of the UK Border Agency, social workers and staff of non-Governmental organisations came together with young people who had been through the asylum process and related procedures such as age assessment. 

Participants were reminded of the harm that bad legal representation, and bad decision-making does to children and young people, but also that the best representatives still have much to learn.  Sophie Barrett-Brown, Chair of ILPA, opened the conference.  Ian Macdonald QC, President of ILPA launched Working with refugee children: current issues in best practice.  Trainers on the training courses delivered as part of the project, teamed up with young people to run workshops on appeals and age disputes.  Further workshops on detention and removal and guardianship for refugee children were also provided. In the final session, Manjit Gill QC and Benjamin Hawkin of No 5 Chambers, counsel in ZH (Tanzania), provided practitioners with their insights into the implications of the judgment.  A report of the conference and papers from it were distributed to members through ILPA's mailing to members.

Second Year Conference

The second ILPA Refugee Children's Conference was held in May 2012 and focused on the ‘best interests of the child’ as defined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The conference attracted nearly 120 delegates. ILPA launched Working with children and young people subject to immigration control: Guidelines for Best Practice (second edition) by Heaven Crawley, Professor of International Migration, University of  Swansea. The conference was run in a similar format to the first year and included a young persons' panel and several workshop panels providing information on policy and legal developments affecting children in the asylum process including ‘age disputes in refugee children’s cases’; ‘trafficking and children’; ‘legal aid and refugee children’s cases’ and ‘Choosing and working with legal representatives’.  Manjit S.Gill QC provided an overview of the developments over the last year since ZH (Tanzania). In the final session there was a panel discussion on the Best Interests of the Child.

Third year Conference

The third and final ILPA Refugee Children's Conference was held in December 2012 and entitled ‘The Voice of the Child: Upholding Best Interests’. The conference was attended by nearly 130 delegates. The day was full and information rich, building on the previous conferences. The final conference began with a welcome address by ILPA’s chair, Adrian Berry,  who outlined the achievements of the Refugee Children’s Project with regard to training , publications,  roundtable discussions and the annual conferences over the three years.    He also introduced the keynote speaker Sir Nicholas Blake, President of the Upper Tribunal.   The President underlined the difficulties that arise with children giving evidence  and spoke positively about the ongoing discussions between members of the Upper Tribunal and judges of the Family Court,  on best interests. 

After the keynote address, a panel discussion on  Family Tracing was held.  Sonali Naik provided her insights into family tracing. This year instead of holding a separate young person’s panel we involved them in the plenaries with the experts and professionals. 

The afternoon session started with four workshops titled Disputed and Detained: Legal & practical considerations for age-disputed minors in immigration detention,  International protection and the duty to investigate for child victims of trafficking, Migrant children’s rights under European Law and Changes to legal aid provision and separated children’s cases.   The workshops were very interactive and the feedback from the workshops was very positive.  

Following on from the workshops, the final plenary of the day was chaired by Alison Stanley, Partner at Bindmans solicitors.  The Chair first interviewed the two young people about their experiences of facing an appeal hearing and giving evidence in the immigration tribunal.  With this as a backdrop the speakers focused on whether the voice of the child was actually heard out under the existing system of hearing children’s cases in the tribunal.  Nick Crichton, Judge in the Inner London Family Divisions Court led the panel by stating that upholding best interests of the child were inherent in the family courts as it is built into their inquisitorial system. Pat Monro, a part-time immigration judge spoke along similar lines and advocated revamping the system for hearing separated migrant children’s cases. Nadine Finch, barrister, Garden Court Chambers raised the question of incorporating the UN Committee on the Rights Child into domestic legislation and the advantages it would bring to separated migrant children and how this would necessitate  a reform of the existing system.  Alison Harvey, General Secretary of ILPA agreed that while the current system of hearing children’s cases was flawed, care should be taken not to undermine the rights children have under the UN Refugee Convention. 

Delegates were mainly lawyers and legal representatives, although there were also Judges, immigration judges and officials from the UK Border Agency, the Border and Immigration Inspectorate, NGO workers who lead on policy initiatives and in supporting refugee children, in the audience.  The day was highly praised in feedback and was both challenging and exciting.   

Informing ILPA's influencing work

Information from the project's training, publications, conferences and the work of the Children's subcommittee were informed by ILPA's influencing work and continue to inform that work now that the project has ended.

 The future

Although the project has ended, ILPA continues to provide training, to issue publications, to provide its information service and to host specialist workshops, including on the topic of refugee children.  Nothing from the project is wasted and nothing is lost.

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