Author: Jamie Grierson
Children stuck in Calais as they wait on the Home Office to transfer them to the UK to join their families have seen delays in receiving an initial decision from the department increase 10-fold in two years, the Guardian can reveal.
The average wait for a positive response to a request by unaccompanied children in Calais to join families in the UK increased from 10.98 days in 2016 to 111.31 days, nearly four months, according to a Home Office document seen by the Guardian. The average wait for a negative response has nearly quadrupled from 16.5 days to 63.44 days.
Children who received a positive response saw the average wait time to be transferred to the UK increase from 26.11 days in 2016 to 198.44 days in 2018, the figures show.
The numbers relate to unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors who have made applications under family reunification provisions enshrined in EU law, known as the Dublin III regulation, which must receive an initial response within two months.
The rapid decline in standards by the Home Office comes against a backdrop of humanitarians warning the department that the mental and physical health of children is deteriorating due to long delays.
Children living in hostels and foster homes went on hunger strike – and in at least one case a child attempted suicide – as they waited much longer than the two-month requirement for a decision to be made on their claim, the Guardian revealed on Sunday.
Marie-Charlotte Fabié, director of Safe Passage in France, said: “The minors we help to access family reunification from France to the UK are facing increasing delays on decisions by the British government.
“Between 2016 and 2018 the wait for a positive family reunification decision increased to an agonising 111 days. This is all the more surprising given that the UK and French agreed under the Sandhurst Treaty that the UK should respond ‘as quickly as possible and in any case in line with the timeframe’ of two months.
“Behind these truly shocking statistics are vulnerable children and families, forced into months of separation and uncertainty about the future. Children have a right to be safe with their loved ones, and the UK and French authorities should be prioritising the transfer of children under Dublin III as a matter of urgency.
“We know first-hand how much children and families suffer because of these delays. And we know that family reunion can have a transformative impact on a child’s physical and mental wellbeing. No child should be forced to wait alone when they could be in the UK with family.”
Under the Dublin III regulation, France makes a “take charge request” to the UK to signify the child wants to be reunited with a family member in the UK. UK authorities have two months to respond. If the request is accepted, they then have six months to effect the transfer.
The document reveals that the number of children who arrived in the UK within eight months from making an initial request decreased from 96% in 2016 to 65% in 2018.
Official figures show that 804 requests were made by unaccompanied asylum-seeking children between January 2016 and December 2018 and there were 426 arrivals in the same period, although some of those arrivals could have lodged requests prior to 2016.
The Home Office was forced to disclose the figures in a case at the upper tribunal immigration and asylum chamber, in which the department is being challenged over delays faced by three young refugees who were forced to wait months to be reunited with their families.
The three teenagers, who cannot be named for legal reasons, are an Afghan boy, 16, who had to wait more than four months to be reunited with his older brother; an Eritrean girl, 17, who waited more than five months to join her brother; and another Eritrean girl, 16, who had to wait more than six months to join her older brother. A judgment will be handed down at a later date.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK takes its responsibilities towards unaccompanied children extremely seriously.
“There are agreed processes which ensure that the best interests of unaccompanied children are properly considered and at the heart of every decision. It is only right that sufficient time is dedicated to these important steps.”
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