Refugee and unaccompanied asylum seeking children and young people: useful definitions and further reading

 These pages were developed in partnership with the Child Protection Standing Committee and the Advocacy Committee to support paediatricians in the assessment and management of children and young people of refugee background, with links to key external information and resources.

Useful definitions


A refugee is a person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence, as a result of such events, is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it (United Nations Convention, 1951).

Asylum seeker

An asylum seeker is someone who says he or she is refugee and has lodged an application for protection on the basis of the Refugee Convention or Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights, but their application has not yet been definitively evaluated (UNHCR).

An unaccompanied asylum seeking child (UASC)

An unaccompanied asylum seeking child (UASC) i s a child or young person seeking asylum without the presence of a legal guardian. The definition for immigration purposes of an unaccompanied asylum seeking child is given by the Home Office as ‘a person under 18 years of age or who, in the absence of documentary evidence establishing age, appears to be under that age’ who ‘is applying for asylum in their own right; and is separated from both parents and not being cared for by an adult who by law or custom has responsibility to do so’. Children in this situation are also known as separated children or unaccompanied minors (UAM) (Kamena Dorling and the Migrant Children’s Project team, May 2013).

An age-disputed child or young person

An age-disputed child or young person-  is child or young person whose age has been disputed and has not had their claimed date of birth accepted by the Home Office and/or by the local authority that he or she has approached to provide support or protection. This term is usually used to refer to people who claim to be children, but who are treated as adults by the Home Office and/or the local authority (Kamena Dorling and the Migrant Children’s Project team, May 2013)

A separated child

A separated child- is a child who has been separated from both parents, or from their previous legal or customary primary caregiver, but not necessarily from other relatives. These may, therefore, include children accompanied by other adult family members. The Home Office definition of unaccompanied children does not include children who arrived in the United Kingdom in the care of a parent or other adult (for example, a relative or family friend) who by law or custom has responsibility for the child, even if the child is no longer living with such an adult due to the subsequent breakdown of such an arrangement (Kamena Dorling and the Migrant Children’s Project team, May 2013).


Trafficking- is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs (UNODC website, 2000). 

Further reading