The leader of Kent CC has called on the government to relieve the county’s “desperately unfair” burden of looking after hundreds of unaccompanied asylum seeking children by introducing a mandatory dispersal scheme.
Speaking to LGC this morning Paul Cater (Con) said the current voluntary system was “clearly not working” and called on the government to “push the button” on the mandatory scheme which was provided for in the Immigration Act, passed in May. This would effectively force councils to accept unaccompanied children currently looked after in Kent and other “gateway” areas where large numbers of asylum seekers arrive.
The call came as Lord Dubs accused the UK government of not following the “letter and spirit” of his Immigration Act amendment intended to guarantee the resettlement in the UK of lone children from mainland Europe.
He told LGC there appeared to have been a “bit of a fudge” with the Home Office seeking to count children who should have been accepted anyway under the Dublin III regulations, which allow for asylum claims in countries where the claimant has family, as having been brought here as a result of the amendment.
A Home Office spokesperson told LGC last month that “distinctions between unaccompanied children within Europe and the children who have made it to the UK on their own” should be avoided.
Lord Dubs said he feared the government was too focused on the “short-term pressures” of domestic dispersal, rather than meeting its obligations under the Immigration Act amendment to secure the safety of those in camps in Calais, Greece and Italy.
The Labour peer added: “My understanding is that virtually nothing has happened [under the amendment] – there are more questions than answers.
He added: “The numbers of children [being accepted] are being obscured – possibly inadvertently or possibly deliberately – but the government is not following the letter and the spirit of the amendment and dealing with short term pressures.”
In a statement the Home Office said that more than 30 children had been cleared for transfer since the act was passed in May and the majority had already arrived, but is yet to clarify whether these cases related to the Dubs amendment.
A spokesperson added asylum claims by 120 unaccompanied under-18s with family links to the UK had been accepted this year under Dublin III regulations.
Cllr Carter told LGC his council was struggling to look after 1,500 children who have made their way from mainland Europe.
He added: “The voluntary system is clearly not working and significant numbers of unaccompanied children have not been relocated.
“We cannot go on looking after 1,500 unaccompanied children any longer. It makes it much more difficult to place our own indigenous looked after children with foster carers and accommodation.
“It is an enormous burden on social care and it’s unsustainable.”
Cllr Carter also said the council is being “short-changed” under the current government funding system for unaccompanied children, with annual shortfalls in funding of between £1.5m and £2m.
Lord Dubs told LGC he agreed that unaccompanied children should be dispersed to relieve pressure on gateway areas, but echoed the concerns expressed by councillors, campaigners and aid workers on the ground in the Calais camp known as the Jungle, who said the government had not acted to identify vulnerable children in France for resettlement.
Citizens UK says its Safe Passage partnership had identified 209 children in Calais eligible for transfer under the Dubs amendment and a further 178 who would be eligible for resettlement under separate Dublin III regulations due to having immediate family in the UK.