The number of adult migrants falsely claiming to be children has more than trebled in a year to a record 1,100, official figures show.
Home Office data show 1,118 were found to have falsely claimed to be children in the year to September 2021 in an effort to fast-track their asylum applications, up from 320 in the previous year.
It is the highest figure since records began in 2006 and comes amid a surge in migrants crossing the Channel to a high of 28,000 so far this year, up from 8,417 last year.
2021 has seen a spike in Channel migrant crossings
Migration Watch, a think tank which uncovered the figures, said Channel smugglers were exploiting legal loopholes to encourage young-looking migrants to destroy their documents and claim to be minors.
Unaccompanied children are more likely to be granted asylum and less likely to be detained or removed if their claim is rejected.
The think tank warned it posed a safeguarding threat to other children who shared accommodation with the “adults” and a terrorist risk. Ahmed Hassan, the Parsons Green terrorist, pretended to be 16 and posed as a “model asylum seeker” before setting off a bomb on a Tube train, injuring 69 victims.
Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, is planning to crack down on the move by ensuring scientific and medical checks are required for adults suspected of posing as children. That has provoked criticism from asylum groups who claim they would be unethical, intrusive and traumatising.
But Migration Watch said the plans still allow a young migrant the benefit of the doubt when they are initially assessed. The proposed rules say that where there is doubt, it must be assumed that the individual is under 18 “unless and until a more comprehensive age assessment is carried out”.
Currently, an individual will initially be treated as an adult if their appearance and demeanour strongly suggest they are aged over 25. If there is a dispute, migrants have formal secondary checks, known as the Merton test, which involve assessments by two trained social workers.
‘Deeply disturbing that the asylum system is so open to abuse’
The Home Office data show there were 1,696 cases where the age of the child migrant was called into question in the year to September 2021. Of those, 1,118 – or 66 per cent – were found to be 18 or older.
This was the highest proportion on record, up from 47 per cent in the previous year. It has only previously been above 1,000 in 2008 and 2009
Migrants continued to arrive at Dover Docks on Monday, in a year which has seen a record number of Channel crossings
Credit: Stuart Brock/London News Pictures
Migration Watch is urging the Government to toughen the initial test rules, including enshrining them in primary law. It has also called for more severe penalties for migrants who destroy their documentation.
Alp Mehmet, chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: “It is deeply disturbing that the asylum system is so open to abuse that adults claiming to be children can be given the benefit of the doubt and be placed among minors in both accommodation and schools.
"The risks to the safety of our children are obvious. It is high time the Government stopped pandering to the immigration industry and dealt with adult migrants as such and not as what they claim to be.“
The Home Office is setting up a National Age Assessment Board to oversee its new tougher checks, which could include X-ray bone checks.