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Reports highlight chronic delay in deciding child asylum claims


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Persistent delay in deciding whether or not to grant asylum to children has been criticised in two new reports.

The time between the making of an asylum claim by someone under 18 and a decision on that claim was over 200 days for most of 2015 and 2016, according to Freedom of Information data reported in a new study by Elder Rahimi Solicitors. Some children interviewed for the report had been waiting for over two years. The Home Office target for straightforward cases is six months (roughly 180 days).

Q1 2015 Q2 2015 Q3 2015 Q4 2015 Q1 2016 Q2 2016 Q3 2016 Q4 2016 Q1 2017 Q2 2017
Days from asylum claim to decision 233 222 261 258 201 193 181 163 130 65

The figures appear to show a decline in processing time in more recent quarters. But the report explains that this is a statistical mirage, as the more recent figures do not take outstanding cases into account: “the averages will change as the remaining interviews and decision events are completed”.

Organisations working with child refugees cited lack of legal aid capacity, delays in age assessments, problems finding interpreters and logistical difficulties as possible causes. But, the report said,

in many cases the reasons for the delay were simply unclear and appeared to rest solely with the Home Office failing to arrange the asylum interview or to produce a decision.

Other data obtained for the report, which was supported by the Strategic Legal Fund for Vulnerable Young Migrants, showed that well over half of children’s asylum claims are being labelled “non-straightforward”. That means they are exempt from the six-month target. While this is also an issue with adult asylum claims (see chart in this post), the proportion of child asylum claims put down as “non-straightforward” is well above the adult rate.

The authors comment that “as the number of new claims increased in 2016, the percentage being classed as non-straightforward also increased, suggesting that as with adult cases, workload pressure may be leading to more decisions to classify cases as non-straightforward”.

The report concludes that “delay has become a serious systemic problem for unaccompanied minors in the UK asylum process” and goes on to document the deleterious effect such delays have on individual children. It recommends, among other things, a child-specific target of no more than six months with “clearly defined exceptions”.

It follows hard on the heels of a report from the immigration inspector, David Bolt, which found that:

In the year 1 July 2016 – 30 June 2017, unaccompanied asylum seeking children whose claims had been categorised as ‘non-straightforward’ were waiting an average of 458 days for an initial decision.

Mr Bolt’s predecessor, in a 2013 inspection, had described an average waiting time of 141 days as “unacceptably long”.

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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.