Wasted Childhood: The Devastating Effects of Home Office Delays on Child Asylum Seekers’ Mental Health

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Child asylum seekers’ mental health is being devastated due to the COVID-induced halt in the UK asylum system. Many are ‘psychologically and physically falling apart’ a new report finds.

Last March, asylum claim interviews stalled. Children arriving on their own and claiming asylum in the UK are stuck in a backlog of asylum claims at the Home Office. A new report by the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU) has documented the devastating emotional, social, developmental and educational effects.

The usual Home Office procedure for asylum-seeking children includes two interviews before a decision. However, since last March, children have had no progress on their asylum claims for months. Though interviews for adults resumed in the summer, interviews for children are yet to resume in the North West.

Long delays

The average time that a child has waited to receive a decision on their asylum claim is 410 days, and the longest wait is 564 days – more than one and a half years. Some of them have turned 18 while still waiting for a decision, meaning they are no longer entitled to legal aid to cover their asylum interview legal representation. This has furthered heightened their anxiety as they worry about their future in the UK.

Though the GMIAU report was based on the experiences in Greater Manchester, they reflect the reality of asylum-seeking children across the country.

Children seeking asylum in the UK on their own are becoming victims of the Home Office’s incompetence, and the emotional impact of this is devastating.

The huge delay has affected the children’s physical, emotional and social wellbeing and relationships with their friends and adults around them have beginning to fall apart, social workers say. They report the lack of trust children have in the professionals working with them, just as another reported lack of engagement in education.

Devasting mental health impacts

The report captures sober observations from supported lodging staff, foster carers, social workers and solicitors who have had the first-hand experience of the acute challenges the children go through. They include self-harm, anxiety, emotional breakdown, insomnia, depression and inability to concentrate. They also raised physical health concerns, which include irritation, pain in the skin, and hair loss.

‘There are children in bedrooms pushed towards self-harm, suffering persistent insomnia, losing their hair, unable to concentrate and giving up on the future,’ said Denise McDowell, head of the GMIAU.

Children seeking asylum undergoing trauma due to Home Office delays
Asylum-seeking children are suffering emotional traumas and physical pains due to Home Office delays [IAS]

‘It’s happening because our children are stuck, waiting while adults struggle to work out how to decide their asylum claims during a pandemic,’ she added.

Meanwhile, other charity organizations and public figures have lent their voices to the asylum-seeking children’s plight.

Victims of Home Office incompetence

‘Children seeking asylum in the UK on their own are becoming victims of the Home Office’s incompetence, and the emotional impact of this is devastating,’ Labour MP for Manchester Groton Alfan Khan said.

For Andy Elvin of Tact Care, a foster care charity, the asylum-seeking children are an “asset” to the UK and should be treated better. He said the children placed in foster care are committed to their education, hardworking, and show a desire to learn English quickly.

There are children in bedrooms pushed towards self-harm, suffering persistent insomnia, losing their hair, unable to concentrate and giving up on the future.

‘They need care, love and attention as many vulnerable children do, and they need the opportunity to make the best of themselves, and given that opportunity, they thrive,’ Elvin stated. He also accused the Home Office of willfully misunderstanding why people leave their home countries to the UK.

According to Home Office data, 2868 unaccompanied children made asylum claims in 2020.

While there is no specified time limit for the Home Office to make a decision on people’s asylum claim, the Immigration Rules recognise the potential vulnerability of children. ‘The best interests of the child are a primary consideration at all times’ and ‘protection is granted swiftly to those who need it,’ the rule recommends. In reality, children are left in a long-term limbo, with the harsh effects of the asylum system only exacerbated by the effects of Covid-19.

Simple solutions

GMIAU is calling on the Home Office to take urgent action to start up claims processes again. Expediting asylum interviews for children or to make decisions without interviews where it would not cause them harm to do so are key areas highlighted.

Without this, the organisation says, the only option is to grant the children stuck in the backlog indefinite leave to remain. The charity said, ‘it is inhumane to expect them to wait any longer.’

[Header image: Independent]