Age assessment in the asylum procedure

Researcher: Prof. Gregor Noll

Asylum applications by young persons may raise the question whether the applicant is a minor or not. Being a minor offers advantages in the asylum procedure, such as access to procedural benefits and safeguards, the exemption from removal to other EU Member States under the Dublin Regulation, and a much higher likelihood of being granted protection as an “unaccompanied minor”. Host states are interested in limiting the group to which those advantages apply so as to minimize costs and to avoid what has been termed “pull effects” on future asylum seekers. In cases where applicants arrive without documents, or hold documents deemed unreliable, there are no formal or historical sources that may alleviate or confirm this doubt. So decision takers speculate on what age the applicant’s biological or intellectual development might indicate. Frequently, they resort to medical age assessments in such situations.

The methods used and the medical sub-disciplines involved in medical age assessments vary. On one end of the spectrum, the applicant is presented to a paediatrician, who makes a comprehensive assessment on the basis of an individual anamnesis, a visual examination of the person’s genitalia and, in cases where doubts persist, the interpretation of x-ray images of the person’s teeth and skeleton. At the other end of the spectrum, the applicant is merely x-rayed to produce images of teeth and skeleton. A doctor specialized in x-ray imaging will then produce a statement on the basis of these x-ray images, in which various ages are matched to various probabilities. It is generally acknowledged that medical age assessments operate with an error margin of two to four years.

I would like to pursue the differences between age assessments as a medical and a legal issue, and the problems emerging when age assessments are given a decisive role in the grant of asylum or other forms of international protection.

Read a brief report from the subproject (June 2015).

Article by Gregor Noll: “Sluta med radiologiska bedömningar av ensamkommande barn” (Läkartidningen, July 2014).

Article by Gregor Noll: “Svåra problem med åldersbedömning” (InfoTorg Juridik, May 2014).