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Report finds young Albanians experience lengthy delays waiting for asylum and trafficking decisions in the UK

Summary:

Delays cause depression, stress and anxiety, and increase the risks of trafficking for young asylum seekers

Date of Publication:
27 October 2021

Report finds young Albanians experience lengthy delays waiting for asylum and trafficking decisions in the UK

27 October 2021
EIN

A new report by Christine Beddoe, a freelance consultant and former director of ECPAT UK, examines how delays in asylum and trafficking decision-making increase the risks of trafficking for young asylum seekers.

Report coverThe 99-page report, Into the Arms of Traffickers, can be downloaded here. It was authored by Christine Beddoe with the collaboration of Garden Court Chambers, the Migrant and Refugee Children's Legal Unit (MiCLU) and young people from the Shpresa Programme.

Beddoe explained: "[The] report covers two separate but related issues. The first is whether children suspected of having been trafficked to the UK become more vulnerable to being re-trafficked within the UK because of avoidable delays in the asylum and NRM [National Referral Mechanism] processes. The second is whether Albanian children seeking asylum for other reasons such as blood feud become vulnerable to being trafficked within the UK because of long delays in getting an asylum interview or waiting excessive periods for an initial decision."

David Neale, legal researcher at Garden Court Chambers, said the report sheds significant light on a problem that many in the legal sector have experienced.

Neale added: "This report will be very useful in a range of contexts. Lawyers who are thinking about challenging delays by judicial review will find this report to be useful evidence, coupled where appropriate with expert evidence about the effects of delay on the individual claimant. … Organisations supporting asylum-seekers should also be mindful of the findings of this report and of the need to provide appropriate support to children and young people who are experiencing delays."

For the report, Christine Beddoe analysed the asylum claims of 33 unaccompanied Albanian children, 17 of whom had been referred to the NRM as potential victims of trafficking. The report finds that the children in both groups experienced long delays waiting for decisions.

Nine out of the 17 Albanian children referred to the NRM waited over 600 days for a conclusive trafficking decision. One 15-year-old child victim of trafficking waited over four years. In every case where a child was referred to the NRM, the asylum decision was not made until after the NRM decision had concluded.

Children with no NRM referral also faced lengthy delays waiting for an asylum decision, though less so compared to the children referred to the NRM. One 16-year-old waited a total of 2 years and 2 months from asylum claim to decision. Another 15-year-old waited for a total of 1 year and 9 months.

Due to the delays, a significant number of children did not receive a decision until their ages meant they were no longer eligible for child protection support. They then faced appealing the decision at age 18 or over when the 'best interests' provisions in law were no longer applicable.

The report suggests that "[i]n the absence of any explanation or evidence provided by the Home Office to the contrary, perceptions amongst professionals involved with young Albanians that delay is by design rather than administrative backlog cannot be dismissed."

The delays led to the young Albanians becoming anxious, fearful, and socially isolated.

The report states: "Focus group discussions held with young Albanians seeking asylum confirmed that long delays have a significant negative impact on all facets of their lives including their mental health. They had all experienced depression, stress and anxiety, compounding the effects of existing trauma. This resulted in young people being referred to NHS mental health services and prescribed medication which they didn't need when they first arrived in the UK. In one focus group of six young Albanians, every person in the group was on prescription anti-depressants."

In addition, all the evidence obtained for the report found that the delays placed young people at greater risk of trafficking within the UK, specifically labour exploitation and criminal exploitation.

Christine Beddoe said: "The safety of young people is paramount. The evidence points to three areas for immediate improvement. The first is that early leave to remain is granted to unaccompanied children seeking asylum so they are given a level chance to thrive and strive. This will build resilience against trafficking as they transition to adulthood. The second is that they should be granted permission to work, giving young people legal alternatives to the traffickers who seize upon their dreams of a better life. Finally, it is clear from the evidence on mental health that young people are suffering unimaginable harm and are exposed to unacceptable risk because of Home Office delays. Decisions on protection and human rights claims and conclusive trafficking decisions should be made within six months. All actions should be informed by the best interests of the child following an agreement with key professionals involved in the child's care. This is what safety looks like."