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This paper investigates legal and political advocacy of lawyers and civil society organisers in the United Kingdom on behalf of unaccompanied children seeking international protection. In 2015, civil society activists and lawyers in London partnered to assist children in Calais, France, who made the harrowing journey to reach Europe in the hopes of reuniting with family residing in the UK. By turning to the UK courts and engaging in public advocacy, lawyers and activists united hundreds of unaccompanied children with their family members, achieving remarkable legal mobilisation success, despite the country’s antagonistic environment for asylum seekers. Drawing on socio-legal scholarship and empirical studies of effective legal mobilisation, this paper explores whether partnership between lawyers and civil rights activists makes overcoming structural and cultural barriers to accessing courts, winning in court, and attaining practical policy change more likely. It highlights the benefits of lawyer-civil society collaboration and identifies the hazards of invoking unaccompanied children’s vulnerability as a means to achieve far-reaching political change.



Working paper


Refugee Studies Centre

Publication Date



RSC Working Paper Series 133

Total pages