Councils to be forced to care for unaccompanied migrant children

Councils are set to be forced to care for some of the unaccompanied asylum seeker children who have arrived across the English Channel in small boats.

The Home Office is to change the system to require all 217 local authorities with social services departments to take children who are currently having to be housed in hotels because of a shortage of places in children’s homes in the south of England.

Until now Kent County Council, which covers the main landing point for Channel migrants in Dover, has had to bear the bulk of the responsibility for caring for unaccompanied children.

In June, it announced it had reached capacity and threatened to take the Home Office to court over the pressure on its services. 

In September, it said it would resume taking the unaccompanied children, but more than 100 children are currently living in hotels because of the shortages of places.

The Home Office will send councils across the UK a letter giving them two weeks to present reasons why they should not accept them.

Councils must ‘play their part’

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, told the Commons this week that councils around the UK needed to "play their part" in offering accommodation to asylum seekers.

It comes as the number of migrants to have reached the UK by boat this year has risen to more than three times the 2020 total. The Home Office said 886 people arrived on Saturday, bringing the 2021 total to more than 25,700. The figure for last year was 8,417.

However, increased security and Covid restrictions have made traditional routes less viable for migrants and the overall number of people to have claimed asylum in the UK in the 12 months ending June 2021 was 31,115, a four per cent year-on-year fall.

Monthly illegal channel crossings (2021 v 2020)

The people who cross the Channel to the UK come from the poorest and most vulnerable parts of the world – including Yemen, Eritrea, Chad, Egypt, Sudan and Iraq.

Under international law, people have the right to seek asylum in whichever country they arrive, and there is nothing to say they must seek asylum in the first safe country. It is very hard to apply to the UK for asylum unless you are already in the country.

‘Reduce unacceptable delays in children getting the vital care they need’

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, told the BBC that the Government’s decision to compel councils to take unaccompanied children was "important". 

He said it "should reduce the unacceptable delays in vulnerable children, who have often experienced great trauma, getting the vital care they need".

However, local government sources say there are concerns about the funding councils will receive, given the financial pressures they are already under.

Councillor James Jamieson, the Conservative leader of the Local Government Association, which represents councils in England, said: "These new arrangements must continue to swiftly take into account existing pressures in local areas."

The Home Secretary criticised Scottish councils in the Commons on Monday for the numbers of children they had taken.

Kelly Parry, an SNP councillor who speaks for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said they were committed to participating on a voluntary basis and were already providing a "proportionate share" of placements.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "We are grateful for the continued support of local authorities to provide vital care to vulnerable children and we continue to keep the National Transfer Scheme under review to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of responsibility across the UK."

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