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Unaccompanied children are waiting ‘months and years in limbo’ in the asylum system

A new report has found that a record high asylum backlog is running the risk of mental health crisis and suicide for children.

03/07/23

Unaccompanied children are waiting ‘months and years in limbo’ in the asylum system

New research has found that Home Office delays in getting legal representation and an asylum decision means is having a devastating impact on asylum seeking children in the North West.

Drawing on government and local data, interviews and surveys with legal practitioners and social workers, and interviews and participation work with young people, the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit’s (GMIAU) research found that children they represented in 2023 were waiting on average 480 days to receive an initial asylum decision, up from 89 days in 2019.

GMIAU is a voluntary organisation in the North West offering free legal immigration advice, representation and support services to people seeking asylum, refugees, children and vulnerable adults. They say that children tell them that these delays leave them feeling forgotten and hopeless, unable to get on with their lives, struggling to engage with their education.

“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 (not her real name), a young person GMIAU works with said.

The group say that social workers, legal representatives and children themselves warn them clearly and explicitly of the risk of mental health crisis and suicide for children stuck in this limbo, particularly as they approach 18 with no rights to move on with their lives.

“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 – another young person said.

The group say the asylum system is ‘growing more cruel and punishing by the day’. Official figures show the backlog Home Office’s asylum backlog was at 166,261 cases at the end of 2022. Campaigners say a ‘clear solution’ to the problems would be to simply 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,” a spokesperson for GMIAU said.

“As a social worker I feel that my young people need to be protected from the Home Office and the ways in which evidence or answers could be used against them,” a social worker quoted in the report said.

A Home Office spokesperson said the waiting times quoted in the report differed from the overall average waiting time to process an application for unaccompanied asylum seeking children.

“The government is working nonstop to reduce the asylum backlog, including claims from children, by doubling the number of caseworkers.

“We take our duty of care towards children and young people extremely seriously and prioritise applications from children and young people.”

Read the full report: https://gmiau.org/

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