Barnardo’s: more than 100,000 asylum children trapped in poverty

More than 100,000 children may be caught in a 10-year backlog of UK asylum applications and are living in poverty, according to a report published today by children’s charity Barnardo’s.

However, Liam Byrne, border and immigration minister, described the charity’s report, Like Any Other Child? as “pretty wide of the mark” and “way behind the reform of the past 12 months”.

According to Byrne, asylum claims are at a 15-year low. Also he said that since the Home Office introduced the Asylum Model in March 2007, which aims to resolve new applications within six months, 52,000 old cases have been closed and the backlog should be concluded by September 2011. The Home Office also claimed that many of the cases in the backlog are duplicates or errors. 

A team of 900 cases workers have also been introduced to prioritise asylum-seeking families with children.

But Barnardo’s has called for the case workers to be specially trained  in addressing the needs of children, as is the case with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

This proposal is backed by Professor Renos K Papadopoulos, director of the Centre for Trauma, Asylum and Refugees at the University of Essex, who said: “The tragic fact is that complex cases often are handled by persons who do not always have the necessary knowledge and required skills to do so competently.”

According to Lisa Nandy, policy adviser at the Children’s Society, children from asylum-seeking families are “virtually invisible” in the current system. “When the government signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and entered a reservation for the purpose of immigration control, it sent a clear message that these children do not matter,” said Nandy.

Barnardo’s also called for asylum seekers to be given the right to work if a decision on their case is not made within six months, an idea supported by Brendan Barber, the general secretary of the TUC.

Currently, asylum-seeking adults receive 70% of income support and are not entitled to full child benefit, education maintenance allowance, family premium or disability benefits. Children receive 100% of child income support.

The report also raised concerns over the shortfalls of temporary accommodation, which is often below UK standards and leads to children being frequently moved around the country.

Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the children’s commissioner for England, said “The government is right to protect our borders from abuse of the immigration system but children should always be treated as children first irrespective of their immigration status.”

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