A BLOG POST BY ILONA PINTER, THE CHILDREN'S SOCIETY "Around 3,000 refugee children seek protection alone in the UK each year, fleeing persecution, violence and torture from countries like Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. When they come here they will normally be looked after by children’s services. Rather than grant these children asylum, the UK Border Agency will normally give them ‘discretionary leave to remain’ which means they can stay in the UK for three years or until they turn 17 and a half. They can then apply to extend this leave.
Research has proven that education is a high priority for most refugee children and young people. Many of these young people have suffered unimaginable atrocities- school, college or university provides stability and normality which can mitigate the negative effects of traumatic experiences and support them to overcome isolation and build resilience. Continuing in education helps to reduce their anxieties and opens up vital opportunities for integration, as well as social and economic development in later years.
Until last year, young people with ‘discretionary leave’ wishing to attend university had to pay 'home fees', like all other young people in care, and could get a student loan. However, following a change in eligibility criteria by the government, they must now pay much higher international fees. Despite having little or no financial means of their own and no family in the UK, these youngsters are now expected to pay up to £25,000 for tuition and cover their maintenance costs without any student support.
Unlike other care leavers, they are now completely excluded from the higher education system at a crucial point in their lives. This exclusion is in stark contrast to the government’s spending on through the Department for International Development, which has invested millions of pounds in helping young people access education in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, yet does not offer the same assistance to the young people who have been forced to flee these countries.
Higher education should be accessible to all, particularly the most disadvantaged in our society. Young refugees have experienced and survived trauma and loss and in order to ensure that their future is protected, the UK government must reconsider its policy towards these extraordinary young people.
For more information on this issue, contact the Refugee Children’s Consortium:www.refugeechildrensconsortium.org.uk”