The unnamed asylum seeker arrived in the UK on a small boat in October 2021, having been rescued when the vessel got into difficulty in the English Channel.
Home Office assessors decided that he was an adult upon his arrival, but a judge has criticised their approach saying it relied on out-of-date sources and a questionable methodology.
The ruling, issued earlier this month, found that Home Office officials referred in part “to a report from Gillette in respect of the age at which individuals start shaving”, alongside an “odd” article from Forbes magazine which appeared to be related to US business practices.
“My view is that the references to these dubious articles and their use to question the applicant’s credibility, undermine the report as a whole,” ruled Upper Tribunal Judge Owens.
After scrutinising the individual’s Afghan identity card, which Home Office officials did not believe was genuine, the judge found it was authentic and he was a minor when he entered the UK.
The hearing was told that the applicant grew up in a war zone in the province of Kapisa and experienced trauma including his father being killed in the crossfire between the Taliban and government.
His older brother was also killed, while the asylum seeker also suffered “abuse” during his journey to the UK, being “beaten” on more than one occasion.
New methods for age assessments will be introduced by the Home Office from 2024, including x-rays of bones and teeth, which the department hopes will help ascertain migrants’ true ages when they arrive in the UK.
Speaking to the Times newspaper, Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the case exposed the complexity of assessing an individual’s age.
“Distinguishing between adults and children is not something that can be done quickly; it takes time and expertise to make the right decision,” he said.
“But the reality is that poor quality decisions are resulting in far too many children being wrongly age-assessed and put at risk.
“We know from our work that this has dreadful ramifications for these children who simply want to be safe and are then left alone with no one to protect them.”
A Home Office spokesperson said it was “vital” to “remove incentives for adults to pretend to be children in order to remain in the UK.”
“We are strengthening the age verification process through the National Age Assessment Board, introducing scientific assessments, such as x-rays, and measures under the Illegal Migration Act which will help ensure assessments are robust and further protect children,” said the spokesperson.
“We are considering the judgement carefully to understand where any improvements can be made to future assessments.”