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Law Society calls for improvements to be made to the handling of child asylum claims

Date of Publication: 
5 July 2018

Law Society calls for a transparent process which puts best interests of children at its heart

Law Society calls for improvements to be made to the handling of child asylum claims

05 July 2018

In a statement released on Monday, the Law Society of England and Wales said unaccompanied child asylum seekers deserve better treatment in the UK and their claims must be dealt with through an asylum process which puts their best interests at its heart.

The Law Society called for a dedicated and transparent asylum process for every claim by a minor under 18, and said there should be effective ways to fast-track a claim if a young person is particularly vulnerable.

Joe Egan, the president of the Law Society, stressed that young asylum seekers are first and foremost children and said "[m]any are victims of human trafficking or refugees who are traumatised – their best interests should be prioritised by the immigration and asylum system."

The Law Society statement was issued in response to a court ruling that found a two-year delay in determining the asylum and trafficking claims of a minor (identifed as NHN) was unlawful.

Joe Egan said two years was "far, far too long" for a vulnerable child to wait to find out if their asylum claim was successful.

"Worse, we know similar delays are affecting many children seeking sanctuary in the UK. Such prolonged uncertainty can have a hugely damaging effect on their mental health and undermine their ability to put their past behind them, so they can concentrate on their education and move on with their lives," Egan added.

Egan also warned that if a child turns 18 while waiting for a decision on their asylum claim, their rights are diminished and they may lose access to crucial support and services.

The Law Society said the immigration and asylum process needed to make lawful, timely, consistent decisions in order to maintain trust in the justice system and uphold the rule of law.

In related news, The Guardian reported last month on the suicides of three teenage Eritrean asylum seekers in London. Two were aged 18 and one was aged 19.

The Guardian noted that mental health problems experienced by unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have been well documented.

Sam Royston, policy director at the Children's Society, told The Guardian: "These vulnerable young people may have experienced the trauma of war, persecution, bereavement and exploitation, all of which can have a huge impact upon their mental health. Too often, they do not get the help they need. Practitioners we spoke to knew of young people who had sadly self-harmed and attempted suicide."

Rosalind Compton, an immigration solicitor with the charity Coram Children's Legal Centre, told The Guardian that many young asylum seekers were under extreme stress: "There needs to be significantly improved mental health support available for all asylum-seeking young people. Mental health support is delayed or made ineffective by Home Office delays."

Academic Jennifer Allsopp highlighted how uncertainty about the future impacts on the mental health of young asylum seekers: "For them, good mental health is associated with being able to work towards future aspirations; having a sense of stability, moving onwards with their lives. It is very hard to do that, if not impossible, without security of legal status."

In a report published last year, the Children's Commissioner looked at the wellbeing of children subject to immigration controls in England.

The report stated: "Children subject to immigration control, and particularly those awaiting a decision or on a short term period of leave to remain in the UK, reported experiencing high levels of anxiety, stress and fear in relation to their insecure immigration status, their uncertainty about their future in the UK and the possibility of being forced to return to their countries of origin. The trauma caused by living in a 'state of limbo' emerged as the dominant source of stress and anxiety in migrant children's lives, and the most important determinant of their wellbeing. It also reduced their ability to recover from trauma they had experienced in the past.

"Children overwhelmingly perceived their immigration status as outside of their control, and as a result, felt powerless; stripped of their agency, and forced to live in a sort of limbo, passively awaiting a decision."

The Children's Commissioner found that testimony from migrant children demonstrated how the experience of uncertainty and waiting leads to a state of paralysis and depression, seriously undermining their wellbeing.