“I thought that as soon as I arrived they’d welcome me and give me nationality and that’s it. I had no idea about this process.” This is what we might hope for children arriving alone in the UK after fleeing war or persecution. Welcome, safety, security. But in reality, children seeking safety find themselves in months and years of limbo, waiting first to find legal representation, then to navigate the complex and increasingly unjust asylum system. They fear turning 18 and they worry about being allowed to stay and continue their education. They bear the cost of the government’s scapegoating and dehumanisation. Children themselves, their social workers and legal representatives, tell us the same thing: children in the UK’s asylum system are suffering.

Download our new report published today about delays for children in the asylum system.

Our research focuses on the delays children in the North West are facing in getting legal representation and in getting an asylum decision, and the impact it’s having on them. Drawing on our own and Home Office data, interviews and surveys with legal practitioners and social workers, and interviews and participation work with young people, our research found:

  • Unaccompanied children, are waiting months and years in limbo in the asylum system. On top of the wait for an asylum decision, which has skyrocketed in recent years, are increasing waits to get legal representation. Children represented by GMIAU who received initial asylum decisions in 2023 have been waiting on average 480 days, up from 89 in 2019. The Home Office’s own data shows the backlog growing, with their plans to fix it inadequate and risky.
  • Children tell us that this leaves them feeling forgotten and hopeless, unable to get on with their lives, struggling to engage with their education. Social workers, legal representatives and children themselves warn us clearly of the risk of mental health crisis and suicide for children stuck in limbo, particularly as they approach 18 with no rights to move on with their lives. 
  • The context is an asylum system that is growing more cruel and punishing by the day. There is a clear solution to  the problems we’re seeing: clear the backlog by granting asylum to all the children waiting in it. Instead the government escalate their inflammatory scapegoating and lies about people seeking safety, and introduce new legislation and policies that create an ever more confusing maze of injustice, discrimination, exploitation and distress. 

We work with children from Sudan who are currently waiting months to be allocated a lawyer, in a legal aid system that is in crisis. Once they finally have one, they find themselves in an asylum system also in crisis, plagued by delays that are most severe for the most vulnerable children. Some may have been told they’d been given a lesser form of refugee status, “group 2”, and only in the last couple of weeks heard that this policy has been reversed.  

But a child arriving from Sudan today, taking the same journey across oceans and fleeing worsening violence, will – when the Illegal Migration Bill becomes law – be denied access to the asylum system altogether. They will be subject to detention and deportation and left permanently in limbo. 

We call on the government to scrap the legislation that is burning holes in our international commitments to refugee protection and to create an asylum system that allows people to safely and swiftly access representation, justice and protection, so that all members of our communities and all children in our care are safe. 

Some quotes from young people we spoke to in our report:  

When we wait long, without any response, we feel like we have been forgotten. That’s what I want to show, that’s the feeling that comes. Being forgotten. (Amara)

They have to look at delays for young people, because so many people kill their own selves because of the status. (Taiwo)

They told me that if you don’t get your status, you are not allowed to work, you are not allowed to stay in this country, you are not allowed to study, and they might send you back to your country. And that really influenced my mental health. (Faheem)

Please click here to read our full report. If you found it interesting, you can help us by sharing it.