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Book review: The Child in International Refugee Law by Jason Pobjoy

Book review: The Child in International Refugee Law by Jason Pobjoy

The Child in International Refugee Law by Jason Pobjoy, a barrister at Blackstone Chambers, is an extremely useful, practical and important contribution to the international protection of child refugees.

I cannot do better than Pobjoy’s own summary of the themes that run through this work:

The hypothesis advanced in this book is that progressive developments in the interpretation of the Refugee Convention, coupled with a greater understanding of the relationship between international refugee law and international law on the rights of the child, enable the Convention to respond in a sophisticated and principled way to refugee claims brought by children. This will require a creative alignment between refugee law and the fast-evolving body of international law on the rights of the child. Although by no means the only solution to the challenges produced by the involuntary movement of children, the argument developed in this book focuses on the invocation of authoritative standards of international law as a means of advancing the interests and protection of refugee children.

As well as covering the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and its potential interaction with the Refugee Convention, Pobjoy goes chapter by chapter through problems with the status determination process from the perspective of the child, considers how an age-sensitive assessment of risk would work, looks at age and persecution, Convention reasons and children (focussing on political opinion, religion and particular social group), and ends by arguing that the UNCRC could be used as a complementary source of protection for children.

Picking up on some of my own areas of interest, the section on the right of a child to be heard is a useful re-statement of the need for children to be properly recognised as human beings in their own right, something often overlooked administratively and thereby substantively. However, there is no recognition of the practical dangers to children of being over-exposed to questioning by ill-trained government officials and lawyers. I’ve seen some truly dreadful, very harmful questioning of children, and judges do not get to see how traumatised some children are by appearances at court.

Of course, direct interview or cross examination is very far from the only way the right of the child to be heard might be realised. But there is a danger that unimaginative asylum officials and judges will see it that way.

The material on credibility and benefit of the doubt is very well researched and argued. Decision makers and judges would do well to read it. Bizarre decisions based on adverse credibility findings against children continue to plague the Home Office and, albeit to a lesser extent, the tribunal.

Useful and practical suggestions are made for arguing child-specific persecutory harm in the form of domestic abuse, denial of education (particularly because of discrimination), separation from the family and psychological harm. The same applies to the Convention reason grounds of political opinion, religion and particular social group.

The book is a really useful bringing together of resources on child refugee claims and includes plenty of new insight and  international legal research into how such claims have been and can be argued. If child refugee claims are to be properly recognised and handled, having a distinct text that deals with the issues in a child-centred way is a big and important step in the right direction.

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