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Leading child and migrant rights organisations around the UK have issued a warning that asylum-seeking children arriving in the country on their own are at risk of self-harm and death by suicide, with the risks being exacerbated by failures on the part of the Home Office to reach decisions regarding their asylum claims.

In a letter to safeguarding institutions, the 25 organisations referred to an independent inspection revealing that children were waiting on average 18 months for decisions, compared to 449 days for adults, the Guardian reports.

At least 11 children coming to the UK for sanctuary have been identified as having taken their own lives, many of them in the last 12 months. Some of them were still waiting for decisions on their claims.

Further research from the Da’aro Youth Project, which was established in response to the deaths of four Eritrean boys, shows that the number of deaths by suicide may actually be higher because there is currently no requirement for coronors to record the immigration status or nationality of deaths. 

Local authorities report deaths of children in care to the Department of Health and Social Care, but deaths of care leavers do not have to be reported.

The letter’s signatories called for urgent action to be taken to address the situation, adding that “some of the children we support are at risk of self-harm and dying by suicide – a risk that is being exacerbated by Home Office failures to decide the children’s asylum claims”.

The independent chief inspector of borders and immigration said the Home Office had promised it would prioritise vulnerable and unaccompanied children seeking asylum in January 2019, but no evidence has been uncovered to show any cases had been prioritised.

The Home Office itself said it is committed to accelerating decision-making and, since the independent report was published, two dedicated case-working hubs have been set up to decide children’s asylum claims. Additional decision-makers are also now being recruited.

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