A Tory lawmaker has added a controversial new twist in the UK’s immigration debate. Monmouth MP David Davies proposed mandatory teeth checks to reassure that child migrants arriving to the United Kingdom from Calais are not over the age of 18.
The British Dental Association (BDA)has warned this would be unethical.
One BDA spokesman said it was “vigorously opposed” to the use of dental X-rays to try to determine the age of asylum seekers.
“It’s not only an inaccurate method for assessing age, but it is both inappropriate and unethical to take radiographs of people when there is no health benefit for them,” he added.
Doctors of the World UK also called the idea “unethical and unnecessary,” saying “healthcare workers are not border guards.”
Under current rules, if a migrant has no birth certificate, passport or ID, authorities must try to guess their age based on “physical appearance and demeanour.”
The Home Office said additional checks on their ages would be made, but not dental X-rays. As reported by the BBC, it is understood further checks will include interviews with their relatives and fingerprinting to cross check with other records which may contain details of their age.
“We do not use dental X-rays to confirm the ages of those seeking asylum in the UK. The British Dental Association has described them as inaccurate, inappropriate and unethical,” the Home Office said.
Meanwhile, the BBC reported that 39 children with links to Britain have arrived this week, after French authorities ratified a list drawn up by the charity Citizens UK, which is working with the government to bring unaccompanied minors over from Calais.
Photographs of some of the children have been printed on the front pages of some national newspapers, along with headlines questioning their ages.
Davies, who is the chairman of the Commons Welsh Affairs Select Committee, said that one of the migrants arriving had “lines around his eyes and looks older than I am.”
He said: “If they are jumping on lorries, they are not going to be adverse to lying about their ages. We should do the tests. We don’t want to vilify anyone… but if we don’t raise these questions we are not going to be able to help the people who need our help.”
Davies proposal has been backed by Tory colleague, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is also calling for more stringent checks.
“For the public to have confidence in the process and to feel that it is genuinely children that are being rescued, it would not be unreasonable to make detailed checks, and if that includes dental checks, I think that would be perfectly sensible,” said Rees-Mogg.
Meanwhile, sources at the Home Office told the BBC it was extremely unlikely that any migrants found to be an adult would be returned to Calais as they would be able to claim asylum in the UK, regardless of the age.
A total 140 children have been accepted for transport to the UK – including 80 from France in the last month.
Judith Dennis, policy manager for the Refugee Council, said she was concerned by media coverage questioning the appearance of those admitted to the UK. “It is not possible to judge how old someone is by looking at them, and most people understand that teenagers’ appearances vary widely.”
Diane Abbott, Labour’s shadow home secretary, also rejected Davies’ proposal. “This is a vile, reactionary clamour. It distracts from the government’s responsibilities to these refugees, which it has largely neglected to date.”
According to British Red Cross charity worker Vanessa Cowan, who travelled with 14 of the migrant children, they were “small boys” who seemed “quite young.”
In a separate report, USA Today noted that the 14 children, aged between 14 and 17, are the first of almost 100 unaccompanied minors from countries including Syria and Afghanistan to be resettled in the UK.
Up to 10,000 people live in the camp in Calais, known as “the Jungle,” many of whom want to cross the English Channel to reach Britain. The French government pledged to dismantle the camp by the end of the year, and plans to disperse the residents to other parts of the country.