Tory MPs have expressed concern that the UK”s hospitality may be being abused after pictures of the first group of “hulking”, all-male teenagers to cross the Channel were published yesterday.
Fourteen youngsters, who officials insist are between the ages of 14 and 17, arrived in the UK from the infamous Jungle camp as part of a fast-track scheme to get children out before it is demolished.
But Conservative politicians said that photographs of the refugees suggested many of the group were older than 17, with one blasting: “These don”t look like children to me.”
The claims will raise fears that young adults in Calais are deliberately posing as children to gain access to Britain, denying places to genuinely vulnerable youngsters in the process.
Home Office mandarins insisted they have “verified” the ages of all of the refugees who arrived yesterday, saying that every single one of them was aged between 14 and 17.
However, many asylum seekers living in Calais do not have identity papers. Some lost them, but others deliberately destroy their passports and birth certificates to conceal their real ages and nationalities and improve their chances of being granted asylum.
In instances where refuges have no official documentation, Home Office protocol states that a screening officer can certify them as a child based on their “physical appearance” or “demeanour”.
Whitehall documents state that refugees “should be treated as an adult if their physical appearance/demeanour very strongly suggests that they are significantly over 18 years of age”.
However, the guidelines also say that “all other applicants should be afforded the benefit of the doubt and treated as children”.
And eurosceptic Tory MP David Davies raised concerns that many of the “children” brought over to Britain yesterday could be significantly older than they claim.
The MP for Monmouth, in South Wales, said that anyone looking to come to the UK as a refugee child should be made to take a dental test to better establish their true age.
He said: “These don”t look like ‘children’ to me. I hope British hospitality is not being abused.
“These young men don”t look like minors to me. They are hulking teenagers who look older than 18. I”m all for helping the genuine children but the well of goodwill is rapidly being exhausted here.
He added: “I”m also curious that there are no young women – I would have thought they would be much more vulnerable. I worry that once again British hospitality is being abused.
“There is no way of knowing if someone is a child. We could end up causing even more misery if we are not careful. We should invite anyone who wants to come to the UK to take dental tests.”
Some of the images published yesterday raised eyebrows amongst the general public after statements by politicians and charities appeared to imply that Britain was being asked to help tiny youngsters of ten and younger.
All of the current crop of refugee children are being brought over under the Dublin Agreement, which means they should all have close family already in the UK.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We can confirm a group of children who left the Calais camp this morning have arrived in the UK.
“This is the start of the process to transfer as many eligible children as possible before the start of the clearance, as the Home Secretary set out in Parliament.
“These vulnerable children, aged between 14 and 17, were transferred to the UK under the care of Home Office staff, with the support of volunteers from specialist NGOs and charities. They will join their families in the UK as quickly as possible over the coming days.”
The Home Office said that “essential checks have been made on these young people for their safety and the safety of others” and added: “This means verifying their ages, confirming their identities and eligibility to come to the UK and running security checks.”