Asylum Seeker Process can cause Mental Health Problems for Children

  • Research shows that the troubles for unaccompanied children going through the immigration process and discrimination have both been found to result in greater Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

    A study by The Childrens Society shows the link between the troubles children have when claiming asylum and their mental health and well being.

    Of the 3,000 unaccompanied children that claim asylum in the UK, most come from countries which are in a state of chaos, endemic violence or with well-documented human rights abuses

    The process of claiming asylum is very complicated and confusing for children who seek protection in the UK on their own. Despite improvements, for many of the young people the process remains frightening and bewildering.

    The trauma they have suffered prior to arriving in the UK is then aggrevated by the difficulties they experience in seeking protection.

    Although grant rates improved somewhat in 2011, unaccompanied children continue to be granted refugee status at a noticeably lower rate than overall applicants.

    On average only 13% of unaccompanied minors were granted asylum over the past five years, while around 51% were given discretionary leave on the basis that there were no adequate reception facilities in their country of origin. This allows them to remain for 30 months or until they reach the age of 17½, whichever is sooner.

    This means that children receive a temporary status to remain in the UK and as they turn 18, they are at risk of being detained, made destitute, or returned to their country, where their safety and welfare are not ensured.

    The report says that:

    Unaccompanied children seeking protection in the UK often struggle to get the support they need to understand their rights and present their case effectively. Limited English, lack of understanding of British cultural cues, illiteracy, lack of education and different development opportunities throughout their childhoods are all factors that make it difficult for many young refugees to understand what is happening to them throughout the asylum process.

    Furthermore, many refugee children will have grown up in cultures where they have been taught to be obedient to their elders. They are more likely to be submissive to adults, particularly those in positions of authority. Our services find that young refugees are often unwilling to complain if something is wrong or ask questions. In addition, experiences of persecution under repressive and brutal regimes have taught some to live in fear of the authorities.

    According to research on refugee children's mental health there is a direct relationship between post-migration stresses and psychological distress including higher levels of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. The immigration process and discrimination were both found to result in greater PTSD scores while uncertainty regarding asylum status or failed claims were significantly related to depression.

    Furthermore, evidence suggests that psychological problems such as these are more prevalent in unaccompanied asylum-seeking children than in accompanied children.

    Choice had the greatest effect on their overall wellbeing; children who feel that their views are taken seriously and that they are treated fairly in key areas of their lives have a more positive view of themselves, resulting in greater wellbeing. However most of the young people felt that the immigration system made them feel powerless as they had no choice over what was happening with their case or the impact it had on their life.

    They also felt that the interviewers whilst claiming asylum were hostile and aggressive which made them feel angry as though their stories of what they had experienced were being doubted. Some struggled to piece together the stages of the process as their memories were blurred or were so traumatic that they had blocked them out, and so it can be traumatic enough without the isolation and anger that the interviews can sometimes instill.

    Many young people expressed confusion, distress, anger and frustration when asked about their experiences claiming asylum in the UK.

    When asked about their general view of the asylum process, their strongest feelings were of fear and worry, and that the process had been extremely stressful. Many of the young people interviewed said that when they arrived in the UK they were scared of being returned to the country from which they had fled and lived in constant anxiety and worry until they were told they could remain. In many cases the decision process took several months and even years.

    Sue Kent, professional officer for the British Association of Social Workers, said:

    Our members have often reported that lack of resources and training leads to a poor service for these children. Although there is recognition for the need for specialist services in areas where children may arrive in the country, these are limited and under extreme stress due to capacity and resource issues.

    Social workers report that to complete good assessments with any child, they need to build a trusting relationship. With children who have come from another country, this is doubly important, but far more time consuming. These children have a right to be safe, but social workers and other professionals are struggling to make it happen.

    Read the full report Into The Unknown by The Childrens Society



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