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Unaccompanied asylum seekers

Media fact sheet on unaccompanied asylum seekers (UASC) and trafficking.

Jet at Heathrow

Hillingdon as a port of entry

  • Hillingdon is home to one of the world's busiest international airport - London Heathrow.
  • This presents Hillingdon with some unique challenges, specifically ensuring children and young people arriving at the airport are safe.
  • On arrival in the UK, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) refers unaccompanied children to the local authority. These could be either unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) or unaccompanied minors who are not claiming asylum but require some care.
  • UKBA refers a child or young person to the council when they assess that the child may be vulnerable or at risk of harm.
  • The local authority, along with other partners, assesses the young people and decides upon the best care plan or next steps for each individual.
  • The local authority has a duty to safeguard all young people in its care and ensure all young people are safe and supported by working closely with partners.

Trafficking of Children and Young people

Trafficking is an issue for all local authorities but is more prominent where there are major ports of entry.

The 'trafficking' of children is a complex issue with no one-size-fits-all response and is often linked to people smuggling, 'facilitation' and private fostering. Trafficking is an international issue which requires a co-ordinated response across a number of agencies.

Are young people always trafficked from overseas?

No, young people can be trafficked from within the UK as well as from overseas and are trafficked out of as well as into the UK. Sometimes young people are also trafficked in the company of family members or adults which can make this a difficult crime to identify.

Why are young people trafficked?

Young people can be trafficked for a number of reasons and there is no simple answer to this question. Trafficking of children includes exploitation, which can range from unpaid domestic service (including within their own families), benefit fraud, or employment below minimum wage with no access to schooling; through to trafficking for the sex industry and other criminal activities.

Whose responsibility is it to protect young people who are trafficked?

It is a co-ordinated effort from a number of agencies. The first agency that young people come into contact with on their arrival into the UK is the UKBA who make the initial decisions and refer young people to the local authority where necessary. Local authorities work closely with partner agencies through the Local Safeguarding Children Board to put in place arrangements to combat trafficking. This includes the prevention and deterrence of trafficking through co-ordinated overseas and point of entry policing activity (including action by immigration services, law enforcement agencies, airport authorities, and overseas embassies).

Why does trafficking remain such a big problem? Why is it a problem in Hillingdon?

A challenge, particularly for port-of-entry authorities, which have large numbers of unaccompanied minors, is identifying those who are at risk of trafficking. First and foremost, they are children so are placed in appropriate accommodation, residential care and foster care appropriate to their individual needs. Local authorities do not have the statutory powers to place children in more secure settings and even if they did, the effectiveness of such arrangements would be questionable, as the traffickers will wait for the completion of the detention period. These young people cannot be locked up even for their own safety, but staff talk frankly with them and advise them to stay rather than leave and potentially put themselves in danger. Only a court can enforce a more secure set up and it requires a high level of evidence to deprive children of their liberty.

Are all children and young people referred to Hillingdon Council trafficked?

No, children and young people referred to Hillingdon could be unaccompanied without being trafficked. Hillingdon Council has a duty to care for any minor who requires looking after and therefore any unaccompanied young person would be referred to the council.

What is Hillingdon doing to combat the issue of trafficking?

Hillingdon works with the young people in terms of managing their risk at point of entry into the UK; engaging with the young person about potential risks and also managing their contact with strangers. Trafficking is a relatively newly identified challenge for all agencies both locally, nationally, and internationally with examples of good practice across all agencies, and we keep under review trends and share best practice.

A multi-agency, fortnightly operational meeting is held to discuss the risks and needs of all children arriving at the airport in the previous two weeks. This enables key information and intelligence to be shared, and protective measures to be applied to those children most at risk.

What is an unaccompanied asylum seeking young person?

An unaccompanied asylum seeking child is a young person who is separated from both parents, is not being cared for by an adult and is applying for asylum in their own right, under the relevant legislation.

What happens when a young person arrives unaccompanied at Heathrow airport?

The UKBA is the first organisation which deals with the young person when they arrive at Heathrow and will do an initial assessment on the child. The UKBA makes the decision which young people are to be referred to the local authority.

How is the assessment made?

Young people are assessed in terms of their age and need. A young person believed to be under the age of 16 would be taken care of in one of the local authority's children's homes. A young person believed to be over the age of 16 would be referred to one of the local authority's assessment centres where their care needs would be assessed. The local authority can in some cases have a duty of care for young people up until the age of 24 depending on their circumstances and need.

Do all unaccompanied young people seek asylum?

No, not all do. Some do at the point of entry and some do after they enter the country. However, some young people never seek asylum after they enter the country and could, for example, simply have come for a holiday or to study.

How does Hillingdon fund the care that it needs to provide for the additional young people that come through the airport?

Hillingdon is provided with limited funding from the Home Office, but the amount of funding is not sufficient for the numbers of young people it cares for due to its position in relation to Heathrow. Last year, Hillingdon had a shortfall of approximately £2m and has in the past lobbied government to recognise the concern of the local authority and agree that funding should be needs based, rather than per capita to ensure these costs are recoverable. As this is a national issue, Hillingdon have been working with other port authorities to agree a funding structure which does not have to be covered by local council tax payers.

Facts and figures

How many young people are trafficked each year and where are they from?

The numbers and nationalities of trafficked young people varies over time. In most years there are more than 20 nationalities represented among potential victims of trafficking but not all young people are trafficked from abroad and arrive at Heathrow Airport.

How many unaccompanied asylum seeking children come through Heathrow each year?

The numbers of unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) varies over time and is collated on entry by the UK Border Agency.

What is the number of young people that come through Heathrow that Hillingdon Council provide a service to?

  • In 2010-11, we provided a service to 364 young people coming through Heathrow, of whom 205 claimed asylum.
  • In 2011-12, Hillingdon provided a service to 241 young people arriving at Heathrow. Of these young people 98 claimed asylum.
  • In 2012-2013, Hillingdon provided a service to 198 young people arriving at the Airport. Of these 89 claimed asylum.
  • As at 31 October 2013, Hillingdon have provided a service to 109 young people at the Airport. Of these, 53 have claimed asylum.

How many young people go missing from the London Borough of Hillingdon's care?

It is not unusual for children in care, or local authority accommodation to be absent, and not return at agreed times. Due to their vulnerability and as a precautionary measure, all such occurrences are reported to the police.

It is very rare that children go missing and don't return at all. They are usually found elsewhere or return within 48 hours.

In this current year, 2013-2014, there are two young people who have gone missing, and reported formally as still missing. Both of these are 17 years of age.

In 2012-2013, eight young people went missing between 16 -18 years of age, but five of these have come to notice subsequently as adults.

This information is collated by the police. 

How many young people suspected of being trafficked go missing from the London Borough of Hillingdon's care?

Young people who are being trafficked do sometimes go missing, and are reported to the police. Last year, 2011-2012, there were four young people who went missing, who were believed to be trafficked.

This information is collated by the police.

Why do trafficked young people go missing?

Usually children and young people go missing because they have been instructed to do so by adults who have arranged and organised their entry into the UK. Threats, coercion, and promises of a better life motivate children and young people to abscond. Often children and young people do not know the real reason that they have been brought to the UK and do not realise they are in danger.

How does the local authority stop children and young people from absconding?

The London Borough of Hillingdon has been very successful at reducing the numbers of children and young people absconding. This has been achieved by providing a 24/7 response service that engages with children and young people as soon as they are referred.

In order to prevent children and young people absconding, the local authority works hard to help them to understand the dangers of trafficking and encourages them to choose to stay put.

How many potential victims of trafficking has Hillingdon dealt with?

Hillingdon staff use the trafficking toolkit as a means of identifying potential victims of trafficking, and a referral is then made to the UK Human Trafficking Centre [UKHTC] via the National Referral Mechanism [NRM], which came into effect in April 2009. Since that Hillingdon has made the following number of referrals.

  • April 09 - March 10: 13
  • April 10 - March 11: 10
  • April 11 - March 12:   8
  • April 12 - March 13:   8
  • April 13 - to date:     5

Myth busters

  • Myth - Only port authorities have the problem of trafficking
    Fact - All local authorities have to worry about trafficking. Trafficking is not something that only happens at ports, although it should be noted that this is a major concern for Hillingdon. Trafficking does occur 'in country' as well with British nationals, as well as young people of other nationalities.
  • Myth - Trafficked children just come through the airport 
    Fact  - Young people can be trafficked in a number of ways, not just through the airport. Some young people are trafficked within the UK and some out of the UK.
  • Myth - All unaccompanied minors are unaccompanied asylum seeking children 
    Fact  -
    When young people arrive unaccompanied, they do not necessarily seek asylum. They may be here to see friends or family or to study.
  • Myth - Unaccompanied asylum seeking children are all trafficked
  • Fact - Young people may come into the country unaccompanied and seek asylum for a number of reasons - not just because they are being exploited. When a child arrives in Hillingdon, they are assessed for risk of being exploited but in many instances this is not the case.


  • UKBA - press office (policy): 020 7035 3535
  • National Crime Agency (operational enquiries for UKBA): 0207 979 5835
  • UK Human Trafficking Centre: 0114 252 3891 www.ukhtc.org 
  • Metropolitan Police Press Bureau: 020 7230 2171
  • Hillingdon LSCB

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Article utilities:  Bookmark and Share Print Print this page Last updated: 03 Oct 2016 at 11:08