“Experiencing hair loss in addition to irritation and pain with her skin”; “developing a lack of trust”; “feeling worried the majority of the time”; “feeling forgotten”.
These are the words of social workers, talking about the children they care for and how they are emotionally and physically falling apart because of delays in the asylum system. Our March 2021 report, Wasted Childhoods, showed how children across the North West were locked down in bedrooms, pushed towards self-harm, suffering persistent insomnia, unable to concentrate and giving up on the future. The reason? On top of lockdown restrictions these children were stuck, waiting for months on end while adults struggled to work out how to decide their asylum claims during a pandemic.
Some of the recommendations from our report have been acted on and have brought some progress for children in the North West. Fourteen local authorities across the region have now signed up for children in their care to have access to remote asylum interviews. That includes eight of the ten local authorities in Greater Manchester. Remote online interviewing is obviously not suitable for all children, but for some it has started their asylum claim moving again. A step forward towards permanency and being able to plan for the future.
But more delays
But four months after remote interviews for children started, unbelievably their wait after an interview goes on. Almost half the children we support who have had a remote interview have still not had a decision made on their asylum claim by the Home Office.
25 children who have had a remote asylum interview since March are still waiting. The average time they have waited since their interview is 81 days. The longest a child has waited for a decision since their interview is 138 days. This is on top of the six months (or more) they were waiting to get an interview to start with.
The harm to children this causes, shown up in our report, has not gone away. Waiting for movement in one part of the asylum process, has been replaced by waiting for movement in another part of the asylum process. The Home Office tell us that they are aware of the backlog, that there are plans to recruit more staff. It’s not happening anywhere near fast enough to protect children.
There are real dangers to keeping children waiting. We recently heard from a social worker in the North West about a young person in her care:
“we have had significant concerns around his welfare. He is not attending any health appointments, not meetings with his social workers, and will hardly eat nor leave his room. It is clear he is mentally unwell and as a result is not accessing the support in place for his physical health concern.”
Last month we signed a letter organised by Da’aro Youth Project. It raises the very real harm experienced by children in the UK’s asylum system, including harm caused by waiting. Da’aro have identified 11 teenagers who have died by suicide while seeking asylum in the UK. Among them: Mulu, Alex and Osman.
We cannot let children wait any longer. Nothing in the Government’s cruel and unworkable Nationality and Borders Bill will deal with the backlog that is causing such misery. If the Home Office in unable to make children’s asylum decisions in a reasonable time (which it has already failed to do), the only sensible option is to grant status now to all these children who have been waiting in limbo. It is inhumane to expect children to wait any more. Forget the divisive Bill, this is what the Government should start with if it’s serious about fixing its broken asylum system.