Asylum-seeker families untraced
Border officials failed to trace the families of nearly two- thirds of asylum-seeking children who arrived alone in the UK, an inspection has found.
The Home Office has a legal obligation to try and find family members of unaccompanied children - but the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration John Vine found this was not done in 60% of cases sampled.
Tracing may enable children to be reunited with their families, Mr Vine's report said, and may also help the Home Office decide whether to grant the child leave to remain if the asylum claim fails.
Elsewhere, the inspection found that children were less than half as likely to be granted asylum in London as in the Midlands.
"Unaccompanied children claiming asylum are some of the most vulnerable people that the Home Office have to deal with," Mr Vine said. " The Home Office must ensure that all children's cases are decided in a timely fashion, and that law and policy are applied consistently and correctly."
Mr Vine said overall staff were committed to the welfare of unaccompanied children and worked effectively with local authorities to ensure that children were protected.
Most asylum interviews were conducted in a sensitive and appropriate manner, he added.
In 60% of the refusal cases sampled by the chief inspector, tracing either was not done, was insufficient or was considered but then not carried through on grounds that it was unreasonable.
Mr Vine said: " While we recognise the practical difficulties involved, the Home Office must do more to ensure that it is meeting its obligations in relation to tracing, as otherwise this may risk incorrect decisions and unnecessary appeals."
The also inspection found asylum decisions for unaccompanied children took an "unacceptably long" average of 141 days in the Midlands - double the 64 days taken in London.
And in London only 15.3% of u naccompanied children were granted asylum, compared to 37.5% in the Midlands.
The report added: "We were offered no clear reason for this discrepancy. "
Refugee Council policy officer Judith Dennis said: "While we welcome many of the findings of this report, it clearly shows that the UK has a long way to go before children in the asylum system have their claims properly assessed and have their welfare sufficiently safeguarded.
"Children should be treated as children first, regardless of their immigration status."
A Home Office spokesman said: "We are committed to ensuring that the most vulnerable groups, such as unaccompanied children, are treated fairly and sensitively.
"We have accepted all nine of the Chief Inspector's recommendations and have already issued new interim guidance to caseworkers giving practical information on family tracing.
"We have also amended the training course for all new case workers to ensure it includes updated guidance on family tracing."