The Home Office today published a report from the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, “How the Home Office considers the ‘Best interests’ of Unaccompanied Asylum seeking Children”, following an inspection in late 2017.
The Inspection is a reminder that in 2013 the then Chief Inspector examined the handling of asylum claims from the same group of children and made nine recommendations, all of which were accepted by the Home Office. Today’s report states that these issues needed revisiting and made new recommendations to the Home Office; its response can be read alongside the inspection report.
This report looks specifically at how the best interests of children are considered in the processes and decisions relating to their claims. It has a particular focus on the National Transfer Scheme, policy and practice around age disputed applicants, communicating with the children and the use of ‘UASC leave’ for those children refused asylum or other leave. Findings include the revelation that less time is allowed for drafting refusal letters than for adult claimants and delays in transfers between local authorities under the National Transfer Scheme; introduced at great speed with little recognition of the pressure this placed on local authorities.
The Independent Chief Inspector, David Bolt, concludes that “Overall there is a considerable amount of work for the Home Office to do” and “I hope that the Home Office can move quickly to make the necessary improvements”.
The report was sent to the Home Secretary on 7 February 2018. Before publishing the report and its response, the Home Office issued revised versions of two key documents; the National Transfer Scheme protocol and the guidance on how to deal with age disputed applicants. The Refugee Council welcomes the considerable improvements in these revised documents.
In welcoming the Inspection report we also want to commend the Inspectors for the huge efforts made to listen to those who work with unaccompanied children as well as the care and attention paid to policy and practice during the inspection visits. In response to the findings of the report, Policy Manager Judith Dennis said:
“This inspection shone a light into Home Office practice which consistently and regularly fails to have regard to the best interests of unaccompanied children, undermining the overarching message from government that they are a particularly vulnerable group. Some of the findings are astounding; some are depressingly familiar, under resourced staff pressurised into considering targets such as strict timescales above the quality of decisions.
“We commend the government for improvements to guidance in recent years, but urge a holistic review into how its practice fails to achieve anything near the best interests of many of the unaccompanied children with whom it deals.”