The GUARDIAN, NOVEMBER 2017
Exclusive: a year after Britain took in hundreds of ‘Dubs’ children, charities say delays are causing distress and at least one young person has been left sleeping rough
Lone children brought to the UK from Calais following a campaign last year are facing bureaucratic limbo and precarious living conditions, which has led in at least one case to a young person sleeping on the street.
A year after the arrival of the first children under the so-called Dubs scheme, which brought unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from Calais to the UK, the Guardian found that many are still waiting to hear if they will be allowed to stay in the country.
Lawyers and charities working with young asylum seekers say long delays are causing huge distress and are part of a wider failure to process claims and provide support to unaccompanied minors in the UK.
Lord Dubs, the Labour peer whose legislative amendment paved the way for the new arrivals in the autumn of 2016, told the Guardian there was no excuse for the treatment of the minors.
“It’s just awful, they have had so much uncertainty, any more uncertainty is so wrong,” he said. “It should have been a seamless process, the local authorities were willing to help and prepare, it’s quite wrong they were sent without time to prepare [for their arrival]. They shouldn’t have come over and the Home Office then been saying ‘what are we doing with them’.
“I thought it would be a smooth process and in some areas it was, it went well so I’m dismayed that didn’t happen everywhere.”
Mariam, originally from Eritrea, arrived in Brighton last October from France through the Dubs scheme for the most vulnerable young people. She has since turned 18 meaning she has to face the challenges of leaving the care system without any certainty on her asylum claim.
She told the Guardian: “I feel safe to live in the UK – Calais was dirty and a dangerous place. But I am still worried about my legal status as I have now been waiting to get the answer for several months.”
Mariam is being supported by Pathways to Independence, a charity. Its head of service, Ellie Shepherd, says the Home Office failed to plan properly for the arrival of so many vulnerable young people. Some 200 children were brought to the UK under Dubs, with more transferred under the EU’s “Dublin” regulations, which allow asylum seeking family members to be reunited.
“Some of the young people who came through the family reunification process have not even had their initial interview,” she said, adding that one of the children she was supporting had become severely depressed as a result of the long delay.
“Our Eritrean girls who were brought here under Dubs are now all turning 18 which means they will soon have to leave the care system. These are young people who are often suffering severe mental health problems,” she said.
There were similar problems with arrivals of so-called Dubs children in Manchester, says the solicitor Kate Ormsby.
“On 9 December we had 20 young people arrive into Manchester airport. We had no notice,” she said. “The Home Office did nothing [to prepare social services] and social workers were taken by surprise. They had no idea what was going on, what their obligations were. Most didn’t even know that these young people had to make an asylum claim in the UK.”
There have also been concerns about children who came under EU Dublin regulations, which allow for family members to be reunited. People working with these young people say some were placed with family members they barely knew or hadn’t seen for years. In some cases, the families – who were not given any government support to help pay for the child’s needs – struggled to look after them.
In one case, a young person began sleeping rough after their adult family member could not support them.
“I have seen three or four young people placed with people they barely knew,” said Alice Cutler, Welcome Centre manager at Bristol Refugee Rights.
“These people were being asked to support them with no financial support and that makes the relationship suffer. Family breakdown is very common. I’m supporting a young man now who is street homeless. He came to join his uncle but was put on the floor in a bedsit and because the uncle wasn’t actually allowed guests this led to him leaving.”
Ormsby said she had seen similar situations in Manchester.
“One 14-year-old boy from Syria was placed with his brother here who was also a young refugee and was living on jobseeker’s allowance in a bedsit,” said Ormsby. “The 14-year-old slept on the floor. This boy didn’t have a social worker and got absolutely no financial support.
“They weren’t eating. We had to find them emergency money ourselves to help them out. This was a boy who had seen his entire family killed by a bomb. They had such a loving relationship, this boy is with the right person to help him but his brother is only in his early 20s and has also lost his whole family.”
‘The system moves so slowly’
Amin is 19 and looks like any other teenager in the Midlands city he lives in, in a smartly styled haircut and tracksuit. Two years after he applied for asylum in Dover, having travelled overland from Ethiopia, he still hasn’t heard from the Home Office.
“When I arrived in Kent, it was very good. They really cared about me. But it’s the system, it moves so slowly. I see my friends get asylum and they can go to school, their lives are better than mine. It is making my health worse and I am very worried about it. I want to get on and learn a vocation.”
Amin’s arrival into Dover was part of the refugee crisis that saw 88,000 unaccompanied minors claim asylum in Europe in 2015 alone. Over 2015 and 2016 the UK received 6,000 claims from young people on their own and campaigners are continuing to press for more young people to be brought directly from France, Italy and Greece.
Of the 1,747 initial decisions relating to unaccompanied minors made in the year ending March 2017, 38% were grants of asylum or another form of protection while another 40% were told they could stay until they turned 18.
Aarif arrived at Gatwick airport from Afghanistan in April 2016 aged 16 and was placed in the care of social services. He is bright-eyed and intelligent, loves table tennis and acting and is studying for his GCSEs.
But underneath his cheerful attitude there is an ongoing worry about his claim. “I heard nothing at all. Then my lawyers shut down [because of cuts to legal aid] and I had to find a new lawyer. I was so stressed having to tell them my story again. I have still heard nothing from the Home Office. I hope it will be soon.” He is sad to see friends get their claims heard while he is unable to travel with his theatre group or make plans for the future.
“I want to work in an airport. I want to wear a suit and be smart. That is my dream.”
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “We are committed to operating a robust and fair asylum system that provides protection for those who are found to be in need of it. In the past year, the UK has granted asylum or another form of leave to over 9,000 children and more than 42,000 children since 2010.
“There has been a rise in asylum claims since 2015, and the increase in outstanding decisions reflects this. We are constantly striving for ways to improve the efficiency of the asylum system, while ensuring we maintain quality in decision making. That is why we are making better use of technology and have opened an additional asylum casework office, so that we can continue to make decisions promptly. ”