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Elder Rahimi Solicitors examines how delay in the asylum system impacts unaccompanied children

Date of Publication: 
5 April 2018

Comprehensive new report funded by the Strategic Legal Fund for Vulnerable Young Migrants

Elder Rahimi Solicitors examines how delay in the asylum system impacts unaccompanied children

05 April 2018

Elder Rahimi Solicitors last month published a detailed report on the incidence and impact of delay in the asylum system on unaccompanied asylum seeking children.

You can download the 41-page report here. It was funded by the Strategic Legal Fund for Vulnerable Young Migrants.

The report sets out to establish and document the prevalence of delay affecting young asylum seekers, and to establish the impact of that delay on young people, both in terms of their personal experiences of delay and in terms of the potential impact on their asylum claims.

Part 1 of the report considers the incidence of delay based on data obtained from the Home Office and on qualitative information obtained from organisations working with large numbers of unaccompanied minors.

Part 2 considers the impact of delay on the wellbeing of young asylum seekers based on a series of semi-structured interviews with young people who have been subject to significant delay in the asylum process. It also draws on published literature to consider the impact of delay on a young person's mental health and the overall impact this may have on the outcome of their asylum claim.

Elder Rahimi interviewed 14 young asylum seekers who experienced lengthy delays in their asylum claims. In the vast majority of cases, the length of delay experienced was more than 18 months and in some cases over 2 years.

The vast majority of the young asylum seekers interviewed said the delay had caused them significant stress and anxiety, with many saying they had difficulty sleeping and that this had had a knock on effect on their daily activities.

One young asylum seeker (later granted refugee status) said: "The delay affected my whole life. In education, and in my daily life. Whenever I thought about my situation and the fact that I didn't know what was going to happen I was never comfortable and always worried. The worst part was when I came through the countries I went through, so many bad things happened and I was terrified all the time about whether I would be made to go back to that. It was haunting me. I was not sleeping properly, always worried. When I discussed my situation with others I was always anxious."

The report says that delay in the asylum process is damaging to an asylum claim on a number of levels. It states: "By increasing mental distress it can exacerbate the difficulties that young people already face in providing a coherent and 'credible' narrative in their asylum interviews. Furthermore, significant delay resulting in a young person becoming 18 prior to their interview deprives them of the protection of a legal aid funded representative and a responsible adult present at interview."

The report concludes: "There is evidence that delay has become a serious systemic problem for unaccompanied minors in the UK asylum process. Home Office statistics show that throughout 2015 and 2016, the average processing time was over 6 months and practitioners' experiences are that many individual cases are far in excess of this.

"The overwhelming evidence obtained from interviews with young people and professionals working with them was that delay in the processing of the claim was having a significantly negative impact on their mental health. It is evident that delay can compound the effects of trauma and the asylum process on children and young people. The asylum process is itself inherently traumatising, yet the additional uncertainty at what is a critical time in a young person's development is adding to this.

"Importantly the lack of clear, consistent and reliable information about the causes of delay is leading to young people relying on rumours or speculating as to why their case is delayed; The seeming disparity whereby individuals who arrived at a similar time are treated very differently is having a negative impact on young persons' relationships with their peers and those advising them.

"For those who are finally granted refugee status after a lengthy delay, there is a risk that the insecurity and uncertainty at a crucial point in their lives will have damaged their future prospects and ability to successfully integrate in the UK, through preventing them from taking full advantage of educational and other opportunities. A lengthy wait for an asylum interview may also hinder their ability to recover from the trauma they have experienced in their country of origin and during their journey. Finally there is a risk that subjecting young people to lengthy delays ultimately prejudices the outcome of the asylum claim by making it less likely that they will obtain lasting international protection."

The report's annex sets out the relevant law and policy which should be applied concerning the priority handling of asylum claims by unaccompanied minors.

Key cases identified include R (Shah) Secretary of State for the Home Department [2014] EWHC 2192 (Admin), R (ABC) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2011] EWHC 2937 (Admin) and R (Gudanaviciene and Ors) v Director of Legal Aid Casework [2014] EWCA Civ 1622.