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 2016 and 2017, 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”.