Asylum seekers could face X-ray bone checks to prove their real age

Migrants could face X-rays of their bones to prove their age under new powers to stop adults claiming to be children to boost their chances of asylum.

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, is to unveil a series of amendments to her Nationality and Borders Bill that include sanctioning “scientifically verifiable” methods to check the age of migrants.

It is expected to include X-rays of forearm bones, which are said to be the most accurate method to estimate the maturity of a child’s skeletal system by comparing the images with a database of children of the same gender and age.

The move would bring Britain into line with other EU countries and the US which use similar methods, including dental X-rays, to check migrants’ ages. They are expected to be used only on those suspected of lying about their age to enter Britain. 

Specialist unit to be set up

A specialist unit is to be set up by the Government as part of the new Bill to carry out the expert assessments of would-be asylum seekers who claim to be under 18.

Previous proposals to use dental X-rays to verify the age of migrants have provoked criticism from doctors who say they are inaccurate and that it is unethical to take radiographs of people without a health benefit.

However, Home Office analysis showed that 55 per cent of asylum seekers who claimed to be children over the past five years proved to be over 18. Of the 598 age disputes that were resolved last year, 61 per cent were ruled to be adults.

Ahmed Hassan pretended to be 16 before carrying out the Parsons Green bomb attack in 2017

One of the most infamous cases of a migrant lying about their age to enter Britain was the Parsons Green bomber. 

Ahmed Hassan pretended to be 16 and posed as a “model asylum seeker” before setting off a “Mother of Satan” bomb on a London Tube train in September 2017, injuring 69 victims.

His real age remains unknown. But the judge who jailed the Iraqi for 34 years in 2018 said he was satisfied he was over 18, but probably no older than 21. The Old Bailey was told he “cynically exploited to the full the generosity and naivety of the system”.

Other examples of apparent deception include a balding male who appeared to be in his 40s and was being taught in a Coventry school. The unnamed asylum seeker, believed to be from The Gambia, was moved to solo lessons last December after parents complained.

A government source said: “A lot of European countries already use these age verification techniques. We want to bring the methods we are using in line with them and improve the scientific validity of them. At the moment, we only use social services checks.” 

The X-ray checks are among proposals that Priti Patel will unveil as part of her Nationality and Borders Bill

Credit: AP Photo/Jon Super

There has been a five-fold increase in the number of unaccompanied children entering Europe, according to Eurostat. Unlike adults, they are taken into council care on arrival in the UK and most often placed with foster families if under 16.

The Home Office will also propose changes to the law to close a loophole that allowed Shamima Begum, the Islamic State bride, to challenge the decision to remove her citizenship because she was not given prior notice, even though she was in Syria.

Counter-terrorism powers

The amendment to the Bill will scrap the requirement so that the Home Secretary will be able to strip suspected terrorists of their citizenship without informing them in advance.

Ministers will also give counter-terrorism officers greater powers to investigate Channel migrants suspected of links to terrorism. They will extend schedule seven of the Terrorism Act which covers ports and airports to enable them stop, search, question and detain any migrant.

The bill comes amid a record surge in the numbers of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats. Nearly 18,700 have reached the UK so far this year, more than double the 8,461 in the whole of 2020.

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