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Home Office has relapsed in treatment of refugee children, inspection finds

Home Office has relapsed in treatment of refugee children, inspection finds

The Home Office has failed to stick to claimed improvements in how it treats child refugees in the past few years, according to the independent immigration inspector.

David Bolt’s inspection of how the Home Office considers the best interests of unaccompanied asylum seeking children, published yesterday, notes that the Home Office had accepted nine recommendations for improvements in this area after a previous inspection in 2013. These included the minor matter of “applying the law consistently and correctly to children’s asylum claims”, dealing with applications in a reasonable timeframe and improving the quality of refusal letters. The department pronounced them all fulfilled by 2016.

Unfortunately for the children forced into this system, Mr Bolt found that “this latest inspection showed that it now needs to revisit most of these areas and make improvements that stick, with the support for staff and assurance measures in place to ensure and test that this is the case”.

One in ten asylum applications last year was from a lone child — almost 3,000 of them. The latest inspection, which took place over the second half of 2017, looked at how asylum applications from unaccompanied under-18s are handled and how children are treated during the application process. Mr Bolt said that

improvements are needed in relation to the National Transfer Scheme, in how the Home Office communicates with unaccompanied asylum seeking children and stakeholders, and in the use of ‘UASC leave’.

Issues identified included inconsistent record-keeping on age assessments, insufficient consideration of children’s best interests in transfer from one council to another, case reviews not being completed, and poor quality decision letters. Home Office staff also told inspectors that family tracing was “routinely considered, but rarely conducted” despite being mandatory in theory. There were concerns, too, that welfare interviews are too rigidly structured and do not allow for enough probing of safeguarding issues such as trafficking.

The 76-page report will repay closer reading for those interested in this issue. A couple of interesting statistics stand out: caseworkers get 444 minutes to decide a child’s asylum application, compared to 555 minutes for an adult’s. Elsewhere in the report, it is pointed out that supporting a lone children in the asylum seeker costs councils around £55,000, with Home Office funding only covering an estimated 50% of that.

The department also admitted that “there is no specific training for those conducting initial age assessments on the basis of physical appearance and demeanour”, with staff left to apply their own rules of thumb to the task of spotting applicants significantly over 18.

The Home Office described the report as “fair” and either accepted or partially accepted each of its ten recommendations.

Four other reports by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration were published yesterday. They include:

We covered the fifth report, on the Right to Rent scheme, on the blog yesterday.

 

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