A judge has slammed Liverpool Council after finding a teenage asylum seeker was ‘at least 25’ based on his ‘prominent Adam’s apple’, ‘thick hair’ and ‘hairy hands’ “.
The boy, a 16-year-old shepherd who had just two years of schooling, was smuggled into the UK in a lorry after fleeing Iran and presented himself to staff at a petrol station in Liverpool on January 25 last year. He then told Interior Ministry personnel that he had smuggled goods for Kurdish peshmerga across the Iranian border, but was spotted by Iranian authorities, prompting his uncle to decide to leave the country.
Initially the boy, who was granted anonymity by a judge, was placed in children’s accommodation provided by Active8, where he was assessed by Liverpool Council social workers with the assistance of an interpreter . They then told him they did not believe his age and he was moved to adult accommodation, where he was struggling to care for himself.
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The boy was put in touch with the Greater Manchester Immigration Assistance Unit (GMIAU) who helped him lodge an appeal, claiming the board’s assessment was shoddy and awarded far too much weight to his physical appearance. In a written ruling from the Higher Immigration and Asylum Court, Judge Mark Blundell agreed and ordered the council to pay the legal costs of the teenager, who is now 18.
As described in the ruling, Liverpool Council explained how they arrived at the findings, noting:
- “A clearly unshaven presentation but it was clear he had been shaving for a few years”
- “The Frizzy Hair”
- “Frown Lines”
- “Well-developed and prominent Adam’s apple”
- “Physically well developed, with well-defined characteristics”
- “A strong and developed chin and nose, thick and dark eyebrows and his ears were also well developed and large”
Judge Blundell expressed bewilderment at the assessment, noting that a boy of almost 17 could have shaved for a number of years, and that there was no evidence before him to suggest that “thick hair” or a “prominent Adam’s apple” meant he was at least 25.
He wrote: “The particular physical characteristics considered in the brief investigation offer little or no rational support for the conclusion that the applicant was well over 18.”
During the hearing, barrister Kuljit Bhogal, representing Liverpool Council, also asked the judge to take note of the boy’s “hairy hands”. Describing it as a “surprising” submission, Judge Blundell wrote: “In the respondent’s case, it is [now] just over 26 years old. I have no evidence before me that a 26 year old man is more likely to have hairy hands than an 18 year old man.
“As a non-expert, I find it quite commonplace for a man of any ethnicity to have hairy hands at the age of 18. I just don’t know if a Kurdish man from Iran is more or less likely to have hairy hands at this age of 18. The point simply does not have a proper evidentiary basis, in the same way as many of the ones I have already considered above.
The judge also pointed out that social workers appeared to have ignored the fact that the boy had worked as a shepherd in difficult conditions since he was eight years old and had been “exposed to the elements”. The court also heard from a witness who had shared adult accommodation with the boy and who described him as childish and lacking in basic skills such as cooking.
Maria Houlihan, a GMIAU social worker, testified and said that from her observations of the boy, his behavior and personality matched that of a 16-year-old boy and that he seemed more comfortable in the company of boys of that age than adults. .
The judgment noted: “In summary, [Ms Houlihan] thought he was a scared, anxious youngster who was adamant that he was 16. Too much emphasis had been placed on his age and she did not accept that he was clearly and obviously an adult.”
Judge Blundell described the boy, who appeared in court to give evidence, as appearing to be a “simple, truthful and credible” witness. He concluded that the boy was not lying about his age and said his date of birth fell in February 2004.
A spokeswoman for Liverpool Council told ECHO: “Liverpool City Council is a welcoming host to all migrants and asylum seekers and offers sanctuary to those in need. We must, however, respect the laws of the Home Office, which means each individual is dealt with on a case-by-case basis.”